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Masabumi Kikuchi: Black Orpheus

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A recording of the final live solo performance of pianist-composer Masabumi Kikuchi (1939-2015), Black Orpheus vividly illustrates just how broad ranging the idea of “jazz” has become. This music was captured at Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall in 2012, and Kikuchi’s visceral playing and cerebral ideas conjure sounds just as much at home alongside Glenn Gould and Erik Satie as they are next to Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor.

The bulk of Black Orpheus is given over to “Tokyo,” a mournful nine-part suite composed by Kikuchi, deceptively simple in some movements, thickly layered in others. “Part 1” finds Kikuchi’s unresolved phrases suspended over tension-fraught chasms of empty space, while in “Part II” the pianist’s fingers race one another to pack in as many coiled, splintered-arpeggio notions as possible. Kikuchi’s ever-present guttural grunting aptly underscores the hammer-blow block chords of “Part V”; the intro and outro of “Part VIII” take a far lighter, almost soothing approach to a similar chords-based attack. “Part IX” unites all of Kikuchi’s concepts, its elegiac, bittersweet pace offset by deftly placed atonal phrasings. This suite admittedly never feels like a through-composed work, but its vision of the titular city, Kikuchi’s birthplace, is indisputably clear.

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