Visions of the Emerald Beyond

Masabumi Kikuchi
East Wind : 1976

MK, keyboards, biwa; Terumasa Hino, trumpet, percussion; Steve Grossman, tenor sax; Dave Liebman, soprano sax, flute; Reggie Lucas, guitar; Anthony Jackson, bass; Al Foster, drums; Mtume, conga.

This track begins patiently. There’s a zen quality, an invocation of emptiness, courting the presence of silence between the sounds. A few taps on a hand drum. The sound of a stringed instrument being tuned, now twanged, played with increasing rhythmic urgency. A high-pitched organ enters the scene but quickly dissipates.

For the first three minutes of “Auroral Flare” you’ll be excused for thinking you’re listening to Japanese traditional music. Or a minimalist piece by Toru Takemitsu, perhaps. One of his wonderful movie soundtracks, blending traditional elements with pungent hints of the avant garde. But where’s the jazz?

The band finally coalesces around the 3:15 mark, adding some stately trumpet along with organ tone rows lifted directly from the “Rated X” playbook. It’s a sort of fanfare. A mesh of East-West sensibilities, a foot bridge between movements, a sensual stretch of music that evokes the Fourth World ideals of Jon Hassell and sensual arrangements of Gil Evans, but sheathed in a shimmering plastic kimono.

Now if you’re strictly looking for kick-ass fusion, fast-forward to the 5:45 mark. Here’s where the song changes gears again. Enter a snaking bass line. An armada of keyboards helps establish the percolating funky rhythmic bed. From here on out, you can hear the similarities with Terumasa Hino’s monster “Merry Go Round” track — no mistake, as it was arranged by our man Kikuchi a few years later.

Although this track can’t quite match that level of swirling propulsion, it generates even more unusual textures. Layers of processed sounds rub past and against one another, cut-and-paste stylee, recalling a less jarring version of Dark Magus — not surprising, considering the personnel overlaps. Or prophetically hinting at the syncretic world-fusion of Tone Dialing. It grooves forwards and crabwise, secreting solos in discreet bursts and bubbles. This was recorded in 1976: Miles was wrapped in his own black funk, his band of brothers left to pick up the pieces and march onward.

The final two-thirds of the track may be the kozmigroovy crowd-pleaser, but it’s “Auroral Flare”‘s insistence on blending and bridging the traditional and fusion elements which makes it extraordinary. Each section invites you to hear the ones surrounding it in a slightly different light, to make new connections, imagine fresh possibilities. Often the best art offers hints about what it can’t fully achieve itself, leaves possibilities unexplored, waiting for the next generation to fulfill its partially glimpsed visions.

( ( ( ) ) )

Speaking of partially glimpsed visions, Vision 12 has come and gone, and we missed most of it. But the hive mind is alive and well and allowing us such vicarious thrills as the following:

Taylor Ho Bynum on pre-Viz rehearsals
DJA on Day 1 (& some great photos)
David Ryshpan on Day 1
DJA on Day 2 (& some more great photos)
Nate Chinen in the NY Times on Day 2
Taylor Ho Bynum gives us a sensitive recap of 3/4ths of (the long-lost) Day 3!
Will Friedwald in the NY Sun (they’re still printing this thing?) on Day 4
Dan Melnick/Soundslope on Day 4
Brian Olewnick on Days 4 & 5
Dan Melnick/Soundslope on Day 6

If making only one stop, make it Darcy’s: hits all the high notes beautifully, while not stinting on the low, offers much needed context and personal reflection, and you can look at the pretty pictures. His assessment of the Grimes/Ali/Crispell set matched Drew’s, pretty much, especially on the difficulty of following Grimes, sonically. They took a long time in coming together, and then it ended. Drew’s experience was also marred by some unbelievably rude audience members.

The only other set Drew saw was the last of the entire festival, the two-song performance by Louis Moholo with Kidd Jordan, Dave Burrell, and William Parker on Sunday night. Undeniably intense, and Burrell was particularly eye-opening in his Tayloristic approach, but both Burrell and, in his more subtle passages, Moholo were on occasion hard to pick out of the mix. Jordan did not leave a lot of room for anything but the most fully formed gestures.

This quick dip into the Vision stream was too limited to allow for much editorializing, except for the perhaps all-too-obvious note that the all-star one-off jam will always pale next to the practiced fluency of a (good) working band. And also to state plainly that Vision is what it is. It doesn’t need to carry the banner for everyone. Does anyone recall when there were other such festivals? What Is Jazz, anyone? The Verizon Music Festival? We salute the hard work of the Vision organizers while also hoping other folks will create some new showcases for creative music. There simply ought to be more.

Category Masabumi Kikuchi

7 Responses to Visions of the Emerald Beyond

  1. Hey guys,

    Thanks so much for the positive mention. I’d been tipped that at least one of the D:O team made it out Wednesday night, and I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet in person.

    One thing, though — would you consider adding David Ryshpan’s writeup of Day 1 to your post? He and I were sitting together for the Tuesday night hit and I think his perspective is a valueable contrast to mine.

  2. Done, and thanks for the heads up on David’s great post. (This is why folks should head right over to Darcy’s place. He’s on point, and doesn’t stint on the links. No link-stinter, he.)

    Sorry I missed you on Wednesday, too.

  3. why are they still printing the ny sun? maybe because it has a kick-ass arts section?


  4. these fusion joints you boys post always take me a few spins to totally truly appreciate.

    but now that i’m finally jamming on “auroral flair” — can someone tell me if other kikuchi records are as good all the way through? where to start? anything to avoid?

    and didn’t he do a record of hendrix covers? now can that possibly be as interesting in the actual as it sounds in the abstract?

  5. steve dollar: thanks for dropping by. The aside about the NY Sun had nothing to do with the quality of the paper, or its arts section (we linked to it, after all), and everything to do with its paid circulation. Long may those crazy cats wave, especially Otto Penzler and the football dudes.

    cherise: always happy to see you around these parts. Can’t help you with your questions, unfortunately. Maybe another reader can pick up the thread.

  6. ah … i should never post after a cocktail! misread your slant. great arts section — i’ve certainly taken advantage of the platform. long may they wave. thanks for clarifying!

  7. Cherise, I’d offered my own impressions on Kikuchi’s work in the Terumasa Hino thread:

    Gil Evans did a Hendrix tribute (“Plays The Music of…”), although IIRC, Kikuchi didn’t appear on those sessions.