Black Orpheus

Masabumi Kikuchi

A document of a 2012 Japanese solo recital – not only the last in his homeland but the last anywhere – by idiosyncratic improviser Masabumi Kikuchi (1939-2015). One of the uncategorisable greats, Kikuchi occupied his own musical universe and in his final years was quietly and systematically severing his ties to jazz, drifting instead towards what he called ‘floating sound and harmonies’, introspective and poetic improvisations. Song forms still sometimes materialized. Kikuchi revisits “Little Abi”, a ballad for his daughter, which the pianist once recorded with Elvin Jones. And there is a surprising and very touching version of the wistfully yearning theme from the 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus.
Ein Dokument eines 2012 in Japan dargebotenen Solo Rezitals – nicht nur das letzte dieser Art in seinem Heimatland, sondern das Letzte überhaupt von dem einzigartigen Improvisator Masabumi Kikuchi (1939-2015). Als eine nicht kategorisierbare Größe seines Fachs hat sich Kikuchi sein eigenes musikalisches Universum erschaffen. In seinen letzten Jahren kappte er still und systematisch seine Bindungen zum Jazz und bewegte sich stattdessen in Richtung von, wie er es nannte, „schwebenden Klängen und Harmonien“ – introvertierten und lyrischen Improvisationen. Mitunter materialisierten sich darin noch Liedformen. Kikuchi reflektiert „Little Abi“, einer seiner Tochter gewidmeten Ballade, die der Pianist einst mit Elvin Jones eingespielt hatte. Und dann ist da noch eine überraschende und zugleich sehr berührende Version des sehnsüchtig schmachtenden Themas aus dem brasilianischen Film Black Orpheus (1959).   
Featured Artists Recorded

October 2012, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall

Original Release Date


  • 1Tokyo Part I
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 2Tokyo Part II
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 3Tokyo Part III
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 4Tokyo Part IV
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 5Tokyo Part V
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 6Black Orpheus
    (Antônio Maria, Luiz Bonfá)
  • 7Tokyo Part VI
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 8Tokyo Part VII
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 9Tokyo Part VIII
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 10Tokyo Part IX
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
  • 11Little Abi
    (Masabumi Kikuchi)
Black Orpheus features music drawn from the last solo recital of a highly individual artist, the Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi (1939-2015). It represents the full flowering of Kikuchi’s late style, with an individuality which resists concise summary. For Masabumi, the Tokyo recording proposed “a new approach to the solo piano formation.”
“His playing had a kind of cloistered originality”, Ben Ratliff suggested in a New York Times obituary, “with long silences, and a keyboard touch that could be delicate or combative.”
Fellow pianist Jacob Sacks, like Kikuchi an associate of the late Paul Motian, wrote in 2015 that Masabumi “was easily one of the most original artists working in sound and music…I think that what he achieved musically (especially in the past ten to fifteen years) is both in an individualistic sense and in terms of artistic bravery on a par with Monk. All of us who play creative music on the piano should be aware of his accomplishments. His art was one of incredibly strong convictions…He took real musical risks and found things most of us can only dream of finding.”
The music on the Tokyo recording is for the most part delicate and space conscious, and moves by its own inner laws of logic. Kikuchi spoke about chasing an elusive “floating sound”, unconnected to anybody’s musical history but his own, but in the Tokyo concert is open to the prompting of his imagination which brings him gradually – we hear a couple of hints of the melody earlier – to a beautifully realized version of the Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria song “Black Orpheus”, otherwise known as “Manhã de Carnaval” or, in Sinatra’s version, “A Day In The Life Of A Fool”. The concert encore is “Little Abi”, written for Kikuchi’s daughter and, as Ethan Iverson writes in the liner notes, “celebrated as an important work in Japan ever since the first recording with Gene Perla and Elvin Jones many years before.”