Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Masabumi Kikuchi Trio with Paul Motian, Sunrise

The jazz piano trio is alive and very well. Over the past several years I have had the pleasure to hear and review numerous recordings by equally numerous and talented ensembles with the trio lineup. Such a one is up for review this morning, the Masabumi Kikuchi Trio's Sunrise (ECM B0016502-02). Kikuchi, born in 1939, has a long track record behind him, including associations with Gil Evans, Elvin Jones and Miles Davis. He has led various groups of his own for many years, most notably Tethered Moon with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian.

For this new recording he rejoins with Paul Motian (in what, alas, must have been one of Paul's last recordings and in fact his second-to-last for ECM) and brings in bassist Thomas Morgan for a set of free, introspective, relaxed improviations. The manner of the trio and Maestro Kikuchi in particular brings to mind middle-period Paul Bley trios, which of course Paul Motian was for a time an integral member.

These are free-floating, mostly free-timed extemporaneous improvisations with little to no set themes or formally composed elements. What results has a remarkably consistent level of "deep" understatement. It's almost a "cool school" sort of "new thing" trio, without a lot of energy playing, with much of the harmonic advancement of avant new music in place, and with the phrasing squarely in the jazz camp.

If you like Paul Bley's trios when they get purely improvisational, you will find a similar yet personally distinct version here. Kikuchi develops remarkably fluid line-crafting, Thomas Morgan has much of a pointillistic role that he plays quite effectively, and Paul Motian drums with the subtle freedom of which he was so excellent and original a practitioner in this kind of setting. Farewell Paul Motian. You will be missed. But hello Masabumi Kikuchi. May you continue these explorations!


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