Masabumi Kikuchi’s piano playing was unique, intense and spectacularly fun. Sadly, he has died at the age of 75, in New York. Playing in both Japan and the United States for decades, he recorded his own work with many of the top names in jazz, including Elvin Jones, Gil Evans, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, and long-term collaborator, Paul Motian, as well as many of the younger generation of New York based jazz musicians.
Growing up in the post-war years in Tokyo, Kikuchi learned how to play all styles of jazz, and recorded with Japanese jazz giants such as Sadao Watanabe and Terumasa Hino, among many others. He moved to the United States in 1974 and lived there for most of the rest of his life. He recorded everything from bossa nova, to funk, ECM-like chamber jazz, electric jazz fusion and free jazz. A great deal of his recorded work, unfortunately, has never been released, but his discography is extensive and eclectic.
It is his piano trio recordings, though, that are perhaps his main life work. Recorded with a variety of musicians, but always including the drummer Paul Motian, “Tethered Moon,” from 1998 comes as close as any of his recordings to feel like the heart of his truest and deepest interests. The piano playing with Motian and bassist Gary Peacock on that recording as well as on the trio’s 2004 tribute to Puccini’s opera “Tosca” are superb examples of his broad tastes, unique approach, and powerful, thoughtful playing.
The Slash Trio recordings from 2001 and 2002 would be recommended for fans of music freely improvised at a very high order. But with Kikuchi, all of his recordings are so different in style from the others, and yet, they sound always deeply just like himself.
Known to his fans as Poo, Kikuchi will be sorely missed by all who knew him, who heard him and who loved him, which are, after all, the same people.