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Masabumi Kikuchi Trio: Sunrise

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Masabumi Kikuchi recorded a session with the late trumpeter Miles Davis in 1978 that was never released. Had it been, the Japanese musician could perhaps have been slung by Davis' Jovian presence/influence to greater fame. As it is, Kikuchi has maintained a career as an iconoclastic artist, collaborating with some of the best jazz players. His musical tributes to Edith Piaf and Kurt Weill with the Tethered Moon trio in the 1990s—with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian—may be his most notable recordings.

On Sunrise, his ECM debut, Kikuchi brings Motian back into the fold (for one of the late drummer's last recording sessions), along with bassist Thomas Morgan for a trio recording of "spur-of-the-moment" sounds. They create a set of diaphanous and delicately beautiful tunes laid down in the sparest of fashions, where each nuance of the music can be savored and pondered to the fullest. Motian, in particular, has always been a master of whisper-soft subtlety, from his early days with pianist Bill Evans until his sideman contribution to pianist Augusto Pirodda's No Comment (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011).

The recording session was of the "no rehearsal, no discussion" variety—three players in the studio, roll the tape. These master musicians make this work, paring down sound to its essentials. Each player is by turns proactive and/or reactive, gently inciting ideas or following a lead into feather-light interplay. The interactive trio is not always an equilateral triangle; there are times when Kikuchi and Motian converse with an unpredictable Zen-like cordiality, with Morgan inserting one perfect note. Other times, as on "Short Stuff," the three-way back and forth becomes lively, the bursting flutters of the wings of a flushed flock of birds. The title tune unfolds in slow motion, a flower blooming in a dreamy but inexorable pace. The entire set has a "sound track to a dream world" quality, and it is a world of surreal and subtle scintillations, cryptic whisperings, and nebulous beauty.

More ECM recordings by Kikuchi are reportedly in the works. This is an excellent thing.

Track Listing: Ballad I; New Day; Short Stuff; So What Variations; Ballad II; Sunrise; Sticks and Cymbals; End of Day; Uptempo; Last Ballad.

Personnel: Masabumi Kikuchi: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Title: Sunrise | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: ECM Records

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