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Keiko Higuchi and Shin-ichiro Kanda: Passing and Longing and There Is Only a Trace Left

Geno Thackara By

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With a resume in music that tilts heavily toward the avant-garde end of the listenability scale, Keiko Higuchi is nothing if not challenging. Small groups dedicated to free (in every sense) improv are alternated with solo abstract sound paintings using her voice and occasionally processed piano. She sticks to vocalizing and leaves the keys to Shin-Ichiro Kanda when they team up as a duo, which is described as the more conventional of her outlets—which is to say that there are recognizable stylistic touches and familiar songs, but it's still fairly far out.

Passing and Longing and There Is Only a Trace Left offers a listen as vague and impressionistic as its title. Kanda sets an earthy foundation, often with low circular patterns and a painstakingly precise angularity that evokes the likes of Keith Jarrett or maybe Keith Tippett (staying much closer to the latter). Even with the cover ballads, such as "Lover Man" and "Rock Me More and More," the pair consciously avoid any rhythm too regular in favor of leaving unpredictable spaces between the lines. They occasionally touch on club blues in their own skewed way and take on Chico Buarque and Antonio Carlos Jobim with an obliquely haunting "Sabia."

Those odd moments of English aside, Higuchi weaves her spell in an expressive vocalese that conveys emotions with dynamics rather than words. Her low contralto is hypnotic and often vaguely unsettling, whether exaggerating certain syllables in an almost lounge-y drawl or fluttering and stretching notes in startling ways. The brief letter-titled interludes sound most freely improvised, giving the album a particularly challenging thread of atonality throughout.

There is indeed more than a trace of longing here, along with confidence, uncertainty, drama and much else. Passing... is a recording that conveys it all with great deliberation and demands more patience than most. It should certainly make some kind of impression, though there's no telling what it will be in the ear of the beholder.

Track Listing: 1. passing   Keiko Higuchi / Shin-Ichiro Kanda  2. Sabia   Chico Buarque / Antonio Carlos Jobim   3. d 4. Love Song / Liebeslied  Bertolt Brecht / Kurt Julian Weill 5. 三月のうた/ sangatsu no uta Shuntaro Tanikawa / Toru Takemitsu 6. Lover Man  Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez and Jimmy Sherman 7. a 8. 黒髪 / Kurokami Anonymous / Ichijuro Koide 9. Rock Me More and More   Colette Magny  10. f 11. Estate   Bruno Brighetti / Bruno Martino  12. longing  Keiko Higuchi / Shin-Ichiro Kanda 13. h

Title: passing and longing and there is only a trace left | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: ftarri

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