Though he is hardly a household name, Japanese pianist Masabumi "Poo" Kikuchi has played, recorded, and toured with dozens of musicians since his career began in the early 1960s. He is well-known to ardent jazz fans as a member of Tethered Moon, the decades-old trio that featured him alongside the late drummer Paul Motian and double bassist Gary Peacock, and Motian's Trio 2000. Kikuchi is rightly regarded as a unique and even iconoclastic stylist. Sunrise is his ECM debut. It's also the last studio session Motian played on. It's a collectively improvised trio album recorded in 2009 with Motian and double bassist Thomas Morgan. Most of these ten tunes are mid-length, four, to just-under-seven minutes, with one over and one brief interlude at two. This is a quietly astonishing recording, because it is, essentially, a freely improvised rubato suite based on the ballad -- pillared at beginning, middle, and end (with selections that have the word "Ballad" in their titles). It showcases an approach to the form that is mysterious, intuitive, and purposely unsystematic. Key changes and slight tempo variations occur suddenly, and then vanish as if their appeal has been exhausted, only to return at a later time -- or not. Kikuchi's touch reveals no hesitation in his ideas. His harmonic statements are instinctive, canny, sometimes spare, sometimes subtly dissonant, but always compelling; they never force their way. Motian's unshakeable and melodic sense of time is present at each moment, seemingly anticipating the many shifts, and Morgan's bass playing shimmers rather than pulses. It asserts pointillist moments in shapes and shades in accordance with the pianist's impeccable sense of direction and his centering presence. Singling out an individual tune is futile since all of this music is of a piece, full of subtlety and elegance, but nearly radical in its lyric invention and rhythmic flow. Sunrise is, like its title, a gradually unfolding, poetic stunner.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek