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"Late Autumn" by Taeko Kunishima

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Brian Tairaku Ritchie


Joined: 18 Mar 2011
Posts: 635
Localisation: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

PostPosted: 2011-12-30, 07:38    Post subject: "Late Autumn" by Taeko Kunishima Reply with quote

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Here we have "Late Autumn", which is the third outing by pianist/composer Taeko Kunishima. She's from tea country, Shizuoka, Japan and currently resides in London. Kunishima plays and writes a strange type of jazz which manages to be disjointed and highly experimental yet seldom confrontational and always under strict control. These are characteristics of the new breed of jazzers who learned in school rather than in nightclubs or on the street. The compositions have an unusual hierarchy, frequently the tail wags the dog, in the sense that ostinato and riff dictate the melody. Or sometimes there is no discernible melody. But structure abounds. Many of the songs feature repetitive backdrops for solos from the instrumentalists. These backdrops, however, seldom remain static long enough to lull the listener into a false sense of security before segueing into something unexpected. This ain't your usual 16 bars, trade fours and repeat the head. Each song has its own internal logic.

I would have thought the opening track "To the Hebrides" was a free improv or a through-composition except for the credit "Theme by Kimie Okada". So......I don't know what it is, but resembles a mash up of offhand piano gestures recalling Bill Evans one moment, Mozart the next. Like a very good pianist daydreaming while looking out the window at the landscape. Unifying factor is the pedal point which features through much of the performance.

This seamlessly flows into "Return to Life", the first of several compositions based on short ostinato patterns in the bass and percussion. Grooves and anti-grooves are reminiscent of the Bruford/Miur era of King Crimson. Another recurrent device introduced on this track is the heavily treated and warped trumpet sound of Sean Corby. All of the music on this album originates on acoustic instruments, but they are frequently altered by producer Clive Bell. Clive also plays shakuhachi and silver flute on the CD. As a result the shakuhachi is mixed ten times louder than the other instruments.

Just kidding!

Clive's tone is a classic Kinko jiari sound and he cleanly executes difficult chromatic melodies and runs. Most of the shakuhachi on the CD is atmospheric in nature or to provide a beautiful tone for stating the melody. Clive also uses some koro koro effects and other extended techniques in the rare free sections. His high point however comes on the silver flute during "Kimie", a tune that swings hard in several different tempos. it is cheesy to mention Eric Dolphy but he does sound like a more in-tune Dolphy on this fiery solo. Clive also whips out a nifty shinkyoku informed intro to "Dusk". This piece devolves into a noise shakuhachi and arco bass excursion that is one of the CD's most aggressive moments.

Rhythm section Paul Moylan (double bass), Maxwell Hallett (drums) and David Ross (cajon, percussion) negotiate time signatures and complicated structures with finesse. Math based jazz is usually tiresome but these compositions can't be played any other way. Most of the time this band can pull it off. There is almost zero blues feel present, but maybe the Euro/Japanese jazzers have graduated from that. Moylan's fat and luscious tone is easy on the ears. He is the bedrock of the many riff based sections. At the end of the album he unrolls a couple of authoritative solos which left me wishing for more.

Sean Corby's trumpet sound is the most "jazz" element on this recording. He quotes Dizzy during the exceptionally fine jam on "Rain Sketch". This song is one of the only times when the musicians seem to be operating democratically rather than leading or backing each other. I would have liked to have heard more examples of the band going for it in this vein. In general the music is impressively controlled but the downside of this approach is that it seldom flirts with chaos, which is a good place for improvisation to go.

Taeko herself is more a composer than a player, perhaps in the mode of Carla Bley. Similar to Bley she favors deceptively smooth sounds which belie the unconventional nature of many of the tunes. She claims Monk as an influence but I don't hear it. Her movement is more linear than jagged. Piano in service of the song, not an out of control percussion instrument. Another thing which may or may not be worth mentioning is that despite her place of origin and the presence of shakuhachi I do not personally hear much Japanese influence in the music. Someone else might.

It has become almost a convention that jazz recordings have a token vocal track in a bid for airplay. Usually it sticks out like a sore thumb and sometimes ruins the record. I braced myself for this when I saw it coming in the liner notes. But the title track "Late Autumn" is an exception to the rule. The (again treated) vocals of Rio Roberts deliver evocative lyrics to a spacy, meandering, confusing melody that never seems to get anywhere and is better for it. It's like a cut-up of some dimly remembered Antonio Carlos Jobim songs spliced together in a dream. This cinematic ending is an unassuming and poignant end to an adventurous statement. "Late Afternoon" is a return to the old school concept that an album takes you on a musical journey and deposits you at the other end subtly altered.

Last edited by Brian Tairaku Ritchie on 2011-12-30, 10:39; edited 1 time in total
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J. Danza
Professional Member


Joined: 07 Apr 2011
Posts: 153
Localisation: Vancouver, Canada

PostPosted: 2011-12-30, 09:23    Post subject: "Late Autumn" by Taeko Kunishima Reply with quote

Thanks Brian! Emusic has an album of hers called "Red Dragonfly" that starts with a duo with Shakuhachi. I'm on the road now but I'll be sure to download it when I get home!
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