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Taeko Kunishima: Red Dragonfly

Nic Jones By

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Taeko Kunishima and her quartet have largely managed to avoid a lot of the well-covered ground in the modern mainstream area, and in so doing she's carved out an identity for herself both as a composer and a piano improviser—while the group, admirably suited to the subtle, implied demands of her music, has succeeded in carving out an identity distinctly its own.

Kunishima has utilised her Japanese heritage in her music, and the presence of Clive Bell on shakuhachi on some tracks serves to emphasise this. On "Ink-Black Night" his work has the effect of taking the music far beyond common ground, an impression that's aided in no small part by the fact that Kunishima as a composer doesn't employ too much of the harmonic density that many musicians seem to regard as compulsory these days. Bell's instrument has a lot in common with the Western flute, but the way he utilises it adds a distinctly different colour to this musical palette.

On "Cold Winter" and elsewhere, Russell Van Den Berg highlights how owing some greater or lesser debt of allegiance to Wayne Shorter need not necessarily manifest itself in tonal reproduction. Instead, the influence manifests itself (particularly in his tenor sax work) in a certain knotty, sometimes intriguingly unresolved way with a phrase—as though even in the quicksilver business of putting out musical ideas, he is at the same time also engaged in a kind of editing process, rigorously tailoring his ideas the meet the demands of the fleeting musical moment.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect of Kunishima's piano work is her penchant for understatement; she never plays five notes when four notes will suffice, and her avoidance of the tricks seemingly so beloved of many younger pianists is welcome indeed. One listen to "Night Of The Hazy Moon" is enough to confirm this.

If the "Spanish tinge" Jelly Roll Morton referred to was a component in his music, then it might just as easily be said that the "Japanese tinge" in Kunishima's could be the very thing that lifts this programme out of the ordinary. Taken as a whole, this recording is distinctive enough to justify repeated listening.


Track Listing: Red Dragonfly (duo); Misty Mountains; To Be Scolded; Cold winter; The Moon Above the Ruined Castle; Ink-Black Night; Night of the Hazy Moon; Tears in the rain; Full Moonlight; Red Dragonfly (band).

Personnel: Taeko Kunishima: piano; Russel Van Den Berg: saxophone; Jim Hart: drums; Richard Pryce: bass. Guest Artist: Clive Bell: shakuhachi.

Title: Red Dragonfly | Year Released: 2006

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