Masahiko Kono

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Fans of Japanese free jazz may think they've come upon one of those marquees where they ran out of letters, and the brass attraction is really Toshinori Kondo. Well, yes sensai, there is also a trombonist…
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Fans of Japanese free jazz may think they've come upon one of those marquees where they ran out of letters, and the brass attraction is really Toshinori Kondo. Well, yes sensai, there is also a trombonist by the name of Masahiko Kono with a wayback connection: that flashy star of the Japanese free music scene with the additional "d" in his name. Kono was a music student of Kondo's in the early '70s, having learned both flute and trumpet. The sound of his professor's virtuoso trumpet work inspired him to check out avant-garde improvisation at length, which is where he fell in love with the trombone as manipulated by players such as the British Paul Rutherford, who released one of the first albums of solo trombone improvisation. Blustery, jazzier Roswell Rudd was another influence, too, and Kono has always kept his feel for jazz, although his involvement with mainstream playing remains slight.

His first band efforts were the parallel development of his own band, Tree Which, and his membership in Kondo's Evolution Ensemble Unit, which also featured the influential Japanese bassist Yoshizawa Motoharu. The influence of his former teacher loomed large, at least for awhile. By the mid-'70s, Kondo was creating wildly anarchistic music in sets with no preconcieved structure and philosophizing about "best part: no meaning," so Kono followed suit with multiple mutes, rapidly shifting textures, and as deliberately unswinging an approach as Rutherford's toughest music. When Kondo went electric, the suppliers of digital effects racks and whatnot picked up an extra sale from Kono, who found himself able to create entire sections of trombones or project a repeating loop into the critic's question of eternity. Armed with all these talents, he had shifted his base from Tokyo to New York in 1980; just like Kondo had done a few years before. But when the mentor magnifico went back to Tokyo and became a combination newspaper columnist, television-commercial subject, and character actor in yakuza epics, there was no Kono puffing along behind. He stayed in Brooklyn, and like many of the New York area's best players has burbled along efficiently in the deep background, becoming a hot item for a month or two before being spat out undigested by the critics.

In the late '90s, he began to exhibit remarkable charm as a big band player, beginning with regular appearences in bassist William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and continuing in a group organized by pianist Cecil Taylor. In the former outfit, his electronic setup is strictly encouraged, and Kono is quite impressive keeping up with the acoustic chops of his associates in the trombone section, while dipping into electronic gestures with a pride at having been so busy in so many areas. He has also recorded with Japanese avant-garde musician Kato Hideki, heavily pushing the electronics in this context, and performed at the Visions Festival with Zusaan Kali Fasteau.