All About Jazz - October 2022 - by Karl Ackermann
Known for her lyrical piano style, Japanese musician and composer Taeko Kunishima has her roots in classical music. While studying at university, she heard Miles Davis on the radio and the impact was life-altering. Kunishima was not content with simply adapting to Western jazz; her interests are far broader and have led her to Dictionary Land. The album is the culmination of influences which range from jazz to her native folklore, and Arabic music.
Dictionary Land is Kunishima's fifth album as a leader. Bassist Paul Moylan and Clive Bell, on shakuhachi and flute, have been recording with Kunishima for more than ten years. Kunishima, who has shown an affinity for adding uncommon percussion to her performances, features Camilo Tirado on tabla and calabash, and Jeremy Hawkins provides occasional field recordings. Kunishima plays a Pro 1 analog synthesizer in addition to acoustic piano.
The music on Dictionary Land is often meditative with sophisticated improvised passages. The opening title track is a masterful mélange with an emphasis on the traditional Arab and Middle Eastern music called Taqsim. Kunishima, who had lived in Yemen for a time, expertly renders unfamiliar melodic progressions and modulations. Moylan's bass captures the style as well while giving the piece a deeper resonance. Kunishima flips the paradigm on "White Whale." Here we have a distinctly different flavor, driven in large part by Bell's shakuhachi; the Japanese and Chinese bamboo flute is joined by Tirado on tabla, giving the piece an unusual global feel. Kunishima says that "Love and Peace," is a brief opus focusing on the nature of conflict, specifically wars in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Inside the music is a brief, powerful poem read by Jeremy Hawkins, which includes: "None to say that death's not like dreams/No longer a window/No longer a street/Just war's echoes." "La Mer et La Rose" is the most straightforward jazz piece, with some interesting improvisation and sporadic up-tempo passages.
Kunishima, now a resident of England, is not well-known in the U.S. and her largely genre-less music is likely a factor. Whatever the overt cultural emphasis of the music, Kunishima deftly weaves in the shadings of multiple cultures. In Asia and Europe, she has been featured on popular radio programs including BBC Radio 3 and Jazz FM, and she has performed at several jazz festivals. Dictionary Land is a fascinating and very different album, even by Kunishima's standards. It is well worth exploring.
Dictionary Land : Simply Jazz Talk : 2022 https://simplyjazztalk.blog/2022/08/13/taeko-kunishima-plays-dictionary-land/
Pianist Taeko Kunishima was a long-term resident in both Japan and London and is now based in West Wales. Her trademark lyricism is found again on her fifth album release, Dictionary Land. Taeko has newly composed eight beautiful pieces, in a thoughtful, melodic vein. Her music shifts elegantly from melody to improvisation and sometimes starting with the waves and a song thrush or a train over a bridge in Japan, created by Jeremy Hawkins’ field recordings, and at the ending again. She had long absence from music activity in her youth due to living in the Middle East and few years after in London. Her compositions reflect the emotional experience of the diverse cultures.
Dictionary Land is, above all, a fusion album bringing together, as it does influences from classical, eastern, and middle-eastern music with undertones of jazz. The title track focuses more on the contemporary classical sound and highlights just how important the playing of bassist Paul Moylan is to the overall sound of seven of the eight tracks (track eight being a solo piano piece).
‘White Whale’ starts with the sound of the sea, provided by the field recordings of Jeremy Hawkins. The melody is introduced by Clive Bell on the gloriously toned Shakuhachi flute with the tabla playing of Camilo Tirado gives the tune its Indian colour, with the piano of Taeko Kunishima adding the lightest of contemporary jazz touches. This is all done at a sedately elegant pace allowing the listener to absorb the sounds produced. ‘Random Thought In The Dark’ begins with the sound of a Japanese train, which brings its own rhythm into to play. Stylistically there is little change from the previous track but there are subtle stabs of energy that stand out from the central theme and once again the delicate jazz piano lines add a tonal quality that maintained my engagement with piece.
‘Image And Space’ is clearly influenced by the music of the middle east and also gives the listener the first opportunity to hear the vocal sound of Francesca-Ter-Berg. Once again Paul Moylan carries the melody with some exceptional bowed bass playing with the sparse piano lines lifting the mood of the tune. ‘Corvidae’, through the playing of the Shakuhachi flute, has a dark feel and is only lightened when Kunishima adds the voice of her piano to the piece. The track begins and ends with the sound of crows, which can signify the end of one phase and the beginning of a new: out of the dark and into the light – and how you interpret that is for you to reflect on.
‘Love and Peace’ starts with a lovely blend of piano, percussion and a vocal. As with other tracks, this number plays at a steady slow pace and in many ways comes across as a poetic performance piece. This is definitely a track to get lost in and I very much enjoyed it. ‘Dialogue With Solitude’ opens with what sounds like a phone call in Japanese, which then segues into the beautiful sounding Shakuhachi flute of Clive Bell. There is a sinister cinematic feel to this track, which I rather enjoyed.
‘La Mer et La Rose’ is the final track of the album and is played solo by Taeko Kunishima. As with the other tracks on this album nothing is hurried, every note has its place and there is a place for each note used. There are jazz undertones to this track, and indeed the album as a whole, but this is not a jazz album. Dictionary Land is a collection of well crafted and interlinked tunes that draw together a number of influences and blends them in such a way as to make them sound as though they have always belonged together. The music is beautiful and the playing of it sublime and I thank Taeko Kunishima for bringing it to my attention.
Musicians: Taeko Kunishima – piano; Paul Moylan – double bass; Camilo Tirado – tabla & percussion; Clive Bell – Shakuhachi flute; Francesca-Ter-Berg – vocals
Field recordings are provided by Jeremy Hawkins.
Iridescent Clouds : All about Jazz : 2016: James Nadal
There is an atmospheric element which Japanese musicians inherently weave throughout their compositions, giving their music a singular dimension which is readily identifiable. Acknowledged for her trademark lyricism, pianist Taeko Kunishima reflects upon the wonders of nature on Iridescent Clouds, offering elegant improvised passages encased in a meditative concept.
Accompanied again by Clive Bell, recognized master of the shakuhachi flute, and secured by the steady bass of Paul Moylan, the ensemble is augmented by percussionist Camilo Tirado. Additional exotic gradations are presented by Hibiki Ichikawa on the traditional three stringed Tsugaru shamisen. The utilization of field recordings by Jeremy Hawkins serves as a backdrop, the record flowing along its conceptual course.
The trickling of water opens "Blue Clouds," creating the sensation of a peaceful sojourn along a stream, lost in rapture. The piece has its moments of thoughtful flotation, as piano and flute drift towards the clouds. There is the distant chatter of passing people in the buoyant "In Search Of Time Lost," Kunishima carefully spacing her piano voicings to depict pensive hesitation while lost in a crowd.
Bell shines on "Iridescent Seashell," conjuring up the native uguisu bird. This Japanese Bush Warbler's recorded chirping interacts with the piano, a fascinating representation on the wonders of nature set to music. "Secrets," features Kunishima on solo piano, her instinctive classical inclinations taking over this tender composition. The bass sets the course in "Lighthouse In Winter," while Bell sends his flute out as a beacon, over the sea, into the mysterious night, waves gently splashing below.
"Oak Tree Leaf Rustles In My Mind," has shades of an Indian raga, set up by the cadenced tablas of Tirado, and bass bowing of Moylan. The suspension returns with "Everything Is In The Air," melodic passages drifting past the bamboo; Bell switching to the khene (Thai mouth organ) for a gypsy meets Zen moment of enlightenment. They close with "Volcanic Rocks," an Eastern melody played in western time, highlighted with high flying flute inflections and bursts, the journey ends on a rocky cliff, overlooking the valley below.
Taeko Kunishima was raised on Beethoven and Mozart, discovering jazz, she experimented with surrealistic improvisational options available in jazz harmony over her last three releases as leader. This fourth record proceeds along the same transcendent course she follows in her intellectual compositions and arrangements, maintaining her Japanese heritage of spiritual quest. While many artists attempt to seek personal redemption through music, by her particular mellow and evocative manner, Kunishima is already there.
Late Autumn 2011 : All About Jazz : Laurence Peryer
Pianist Taeko Kunishima's third record, Late Autumn, is an exciting work full of intriguing compositions, diverse instrumentation and top-notch performances. Any one or two of these attributes, as manifested on this album, would be enough to carry the day, but the presence of all three makes for a must-hear release.
Kunishima's compositional skill is substantial, and it is a missed opportunity to listen to these pieces in only a casual way. The songs veer from moments of very straight-ahead, contemporary jazz in the vein of, say, Aaron Goldberg, into an assortment of surprising time changes and seductive melodies. These are not self-indulgent, gimmicky displays of ability, and the experimentation is never at the expense of accessibility. Kunishima has written nine highly original and exceptional songs.
While there are seven instrumentalists credited on this album, the core of the ensemble is a quartet. Several layers of texture are built upon the foundation of Kunishima, trumpeter Sean Corby, bassist Paul Moylan and drummer Maxwell Hallett, including a variety of percussion sounds from David Ross and ethereal shakuhachi (Japanese flute) work from Clive Bell, who also produced the set. While the instruments are all acoustic, there is tasteful and effective sound processing at several points (specifically applied to Corby's trumpet) as well as jangly, off-kilter prepared piano from Kunishima on "Rain Sketch." None of the sonic colorings are overdone or sound misplaced, instead contributing atmospherics at the service of the compositions.
The engineering and musicians make great use of the sonic palette at their disposal, but the real pleasure is derived from the performance execution. The playing is tight and syncopated where the music calls for it, displaying a lilting swing on "Promise," with its bouncy bass melody and hand clap accents. The band also plays out and psychedelic—with ease and seeming pleasure, given how often they go there. The one vocal track, featuring Rio Roberts, is more than just straightforward; the melody is quirky—pretty, but oddly and rewardingly disjointed at moments. Just another point of intrigue amongst many; all of these musicians deliver exactly what is appropriate when called upon.
To date, Taeko Kunishima's live work has been focused in the UK, Germany and Japan. This thoroughly modern and captivating record may be one to help her break through to a more global audience, including casual jazz fans looking for something new but also the aficionado in need of uncharted terrain to explore. Taeko Kunishima's Late Autumn is the perfect storm of repertoire, arrangements and players, with something for everyone.Pianist Taeko Kunishima's third record, Late Autumn, is an exciting work full of intriguing compositions, diverse instrumentation and top-notch performances. Any one or two of these attributes, as manifested on this album, would be enough to carry the day, but the presence of all three makes for a must-hear release.