Masabumi Kikuchi – Hanamichi

Posted: 4 April 2021 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Red Hook Records – 16th April 2021

Red Hook Records is the new label set-up by former ECM producer, Sun Chung. Hanamichi is Red Hook’s debut release. And what a prestigious release it is.

This is no casual, passing release or minor effort, and it’s certainly not a stop-gap space-filler of a release in the body of Kikuchi’s work: Hanamichi represents the final studio recordings made by the Japanese pianist, laid down over two days in December 2013, before his death in 2015 aged 75. As the liner notes suggest, Hanamichi is ‘the culmination of [his] lifetime of musical exploration and discovery.

Having featured on no fewer than 62 album releases, and having worked with a host of artists including McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, Gary Peacock, Paul Motion, Hanamichi provides a fascinating bookend to an outstanding careers, and demonstrates his unique ear for melody. The airy and spacious opener, ‘Ramona’ is exemplary: the notes, played at intervals that hint at a time signature, but one that’s varied and unconventional, flow in a fashion that’s on the surface an easy, vaguely jazzy tune, but then there’s something that doesn’t quite conform to expectation, with small and subtle but still definite jumps between key.

And so Kikuchi leads us airily through the soft easiness of ‘Summertime’, an extended composition of great delicacy. Fleetingly, a bar resembling Ella Fitzgerald’s song of the same name half-appears, but in an instant, it’s floated away on a zephyr. Yet there are some moments of uncomfortable discord, and clouds gather across the sun, before the piece slowly tapers down to nothing in the final minute.

‘My Favorite Things’, in two parts, echoes the lilting lightness of the first piece, and the atmosphere is almost that of the background soundtrack in a basement jazz bar. Back in the day, you’d hear stuff like this that was mellow and laid-back through a smog of smoke and a babble of chat late into the night and even into the morning in tiny spaces down winding stairs. But what renders these pieces interesting are the sudden flurries or notes in a different tempo, occasionally lurching unexpectedly here to there, breeding disorientation and discomfort.

The contrasts are the key: gentle, accessible melodies and soothing tunes veer sharply and unexpectedly into awkwardness – not so awkward as to be horribly jarring, but just awkward enough to be, well, awkward. As such, Hanamichi sounds like nothing else: easy, but not, existing in a unique space, a space apart.

AA

Hanamichi album cover 3000px

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