NPR : Fresh Air

Filed Under:

Anti-Virtuoso Piano, Delicate And Despoiled

Play associated audio

The death of a great musician ripples through the jazz community. It's a special loss to those improvisers we might call immediate survivors: working partners who'll miss that special interaction with a singular musician.

In his late phase, Paul Motian had reduced drumming to essences, or a mere suggestion — to a concentrated, rarefied level where an isolated rustle might bear all the weight, like a single brushstroke on a white canvas. In the end, Motian personified the idea of the right minimal gesture. In the months since he passed away last November, a couple of Motian's last trio recordings have been released posthumously, including one led by his favorite New York pianist, Masabumi Kikuchi. Sunrise puts Kikuchi in like-minded company.

Like Motian, Kikuchi has his own anti-virtuoso thing going. He recently told an interviewer, "I don't have any technique," and you know what he means: It's as if he's renounced it. Of course, he showed some chops on records he made in Japan in the 1960s, but even back then he could be elliptical.

Masabumi Kikuchi is a sort of outsider artist in jazz — an odd way to describe someone who's lived for decades within walking distance of the Village Vanguard where he's often performed. Over that time, he's stripped all the frills from his playing. His improvised line can be exquisitely delicate, but then he'll despoil it, disturbing the calm surface, splattering the canvas. He's also the best and worst of pianists who sing along with themselves; his hazy voice is like a walkie-talkie transmission from the moon. It's too weird to dislike.

A pianist who makes unpredictable moves poses special challenges to a bass player. Some would try to guess where he's headed and meet him there, while others might play a fully independent part. Thomas Morgan — in recent years the bassist of choice for Motian, Kikuchi and many others — at times does something more challenging. He inserts his own notes into Kikuchi's line where he hears an opening, fusing piano and bass into one voice. Morgan might even finish the pianist's thought.

The music on Sunrise was improvised from scratch, though sometimes the pianist seems to have a melody in mind. One piece sounds like he's riffing on his old boss Gil Evans' theme "La Nevada." These improvisations can be very beautiful even when they take bizarre turns. The players may pull up short just when they get a groove going, so even the endings might erupt out of nowhere.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

The Role Of Music In Presidential Campaigns

Presidential candidates today frequently use popular pieces of music as campaign "theme songs" often without approval from the musicians themselves. But using music on the campaign trail is not a modern phenomenon: it goes back to our earliest presidential elections.

NPR

From Dock To Dish: A New Model Connects Chefs To Local Fishermen

Prominent chefs are signing up for restaurant-supported fisheries: They commit to buying fresh-caught seafood, whatever the species, from local small fishermen. A pilot program launched in California.

NPR

Here's The 62-Word Pledge Republicans Want Donald Trump To Sign

They want Trump to say he will support the eventual Republican nominee, something he wouldn't promise during the first debate.
NPR

Yahoo CEO To Take Limited Leave After Giving Birth To Twins

NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Slate DoubleX Gabfest's Hanna Rosin about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to take just two weeks worth of parental leave after having twins in December.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.