All About Jazz

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 onIridescent 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.

Track Listing: Blue Clouds; In Search Of Time Lost; Iridescent Seashell; Secret; Lighthouse In Winter; Oak Tree Rustles In My Mind; Everything Is In The Air; Volcanic Rocks.

Personnel: Taeko Kunishima: piano, composer; CliveBell: shakuhachi, khene, Cretan pipes; Paul Moylan: double bass; Camilo Tirado: tablas, persussion; Hibiki Ichikawa: Tsugaru shamisen; Jeremy Hawkins: field recordings of uguisu, Japanese voices, rustling oaks.

JAMES NADAL, September 10, 2016.

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: 33 Jazz | Style: Modern Jazz


The Jazz Mann

Taeko Kunishima

“Iridescent Clouds”

(33 Jazz – 33JAZZ258)

The pianist and composer Taeko Kunishima lived and worked in London for many years but in more recent times has been dividing her time between the UK and her native Japan, an arrangement necessitated by the need to care for her elderly mother.

Despite her hectic schedule Kunishima felt the need to “keep some space for musical creativity” and the album “Iridescent Clouds” is the product of this process. Recorded in the UK at two separate sessions in December 2015 and March 2016 the album is a convincing blend of jazz and world music styles, a kind of contemporary “third stream” music, if you will.

Naturally the music of Japan features strongly with Clive Bell playing the shakuhachi flute and Hibiki Ichikawa the three stringed Tsugaru shamisen. However Bell also plays the khene (or Thai mouth organ) and the Cretan pipes. Camilo Tirado’s tablas and other percussion add Indian and Latin flavours while Paul Moylan’s double bass underpins and anchors this undeniably exotic ensemble with further colour being provided by Jeremy Hawkins’ imaginative use of field recordings, including birdsong, human voices and the rustling of leaves.

Produced by Bell in conjunction with an engineering team headed by Nick Pugh the album, Kunishima’s fourth, features eight original compositions by the leader, the majority of them inspired by the beauties of the natural world. 

Her approach is typified by the opening “Blue Clouds” which commences with the sound of running water and combines her lyrical piano with the exotic sounds of Tirado’s tabla and Bell’s wondrously atmospheric shakuhachi. Bell is one of the foremost European exponents of the instrument and also plays a variety of other ethnic flutes, pipes etc. He’s worked extensively with Jah Wobble and has been part of the bassist’s “Chinese Dub” and “Japanese Dub” projects. Others with whom Bell has collaborated include David Sylvian, Philip Clemo and former Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Bell is also a highly respected music journalist and writes regularly for Wire magazine. 

There’s a gentle, episodic quality about the first piece but the following “In Search Of Time Lost” adds a greater urgency courtesy of Moylan’s robust bass lines and the rhythmic, banjo like twang of Ichikawa’s Tsugaru shamisen. Tirado’s percussion also helps to keep things moving and effective use is made of ‘found sounds’ including the sampled voices of a Japanese gathering. Bell’s shakuhachi is used more sparingly this time around but Kunishima’s piano is an almost constant presence as it weaves in and out of the piece in a manner that one commentator has likened to the wanderings of an individual lost within a large crowd and searching for a familiar face. Although different in feel to the opener the cinematic quality that distinguishes much of Kunishima’s output is again there in abundance.

Bell plays a greater role on the following “Iridescent Seashell” which opens with the sound of his shakuhachi twinned with Moylan’s bowed bass. Piano and percussion are added to the equation and the piece is similar in feel to that of the opener, similarly inspired by nature, as lyricism combines with musical exotica to create an almost zen like air of calm. Later in the piece piano and percussion are combined to charming effect with a field recording of the Uguisu Bird ( or Japanese Bush Warbler) – although one could just as easily believe that the sounds were generated by one of Bell’s flutes.

“Secrets” represents something of a musical interlude, a solo piano piece that features Kunishima in thoughtful mood, while again demonstrating her innate lyricism allied to a classically inspired lightness of touch.

Visual imagery plays an important role in Kunishima’s choice of tune titles. Moylan’s bass forms the foundation of “Lighthouse In Winter” while Bell’s wispy flute sounds like the searchlight beam desperately attempting to break through thick fog. Piano and percussion are deployed to atmospheric and dramatic effect and the piece ends with the sound of the sea, enigmatically unresolved.

As its title suggests “Oak Tree Leaf Rustles In My Mind” makes effective use of Hawkins’ field recordings. But perhaps the most interesting facet of this piece is the seamless blending of Japanese and Indian music traditions with Tirado deploying both tablas and gongs. Moylan’s grainy bowed bass approximates the sound of a tree creaking in the wind while Kunishima and Bell provide a balancing melodicism and lyricism.

Kunishima and Bell first played together in 2006 and the flautist subsequently appeared on two of Kunishima’s previous releases for 33 Jazz, “Red Dragonfly” (2006) and “Late Autumn” (2012), the latter also seeing Bell acting as producer. The chemistry that has developed between the pair is typified by the piano/shakuhachi (plus occasional percussion) passage that introduces “Everything Is In The Air”. Bell then switches to khene as the piece changes mood and direction, the harmonica like tones of the Thai instrument adding yet another intriguing flavour to Kunishima’s music as Bell’s playing is augmented by Tirado’s bright, lively, imaginative percussion. The piece then resolves itself with a gently lyrical coda featuring piano and bowed bass.

The album concludes with “Volcanic Rocks”, another piece with a strong cinematic quality. An evocative introduction features what I assume to be those Cretam pipes, their skirl augmented by the dramatic crashes and shimmers of Tirado’s gongs and cymbals. Tablas and bass then establish a strong groove, this punctuated by more atmospheric passages featuring bowed bass, the shimmering of percussion and the ethereal sounds of the shakuhachi with Kunishima’s piano the unifying force that holds it altogether.

Like the previous pieces “Volcanic Rocks” explores different sounds and different moods but still sounds unforced, organic and thoroughly natural. It’s the skill of Kunishima’s writing that draws these seemingly disparate cultural and musical elements together to create a thoroughly convincing whole and music with a strong cinematic and, indeed, spiritual quality. The playing is consistently excellent throughout and Bell’s production also serves the music well.

I’ll admit that when I first heard this album I was a little uncertain as to what to make of it. There’s little in the way of conventional jazz swing, which may deter some listeners, but this is carefully crafted, consistently beautiful music that has a way of getting under your skin and staying there, something that the intriguing and exotic instrumentation positively encourages. 

I came fully prepared to dislike this record, yet find myself thoroughly recommending it. 

Ian Mann   January 2017




All About Jazz

Taeko Kunishima's Late Autumn starts with a wandering
solo entrance that engages the composer/pianist's stream of jazz style. It
instantly feels both musically liberated and firmly rooted in multi-era
reverence. This prologue, "To the Hebrides," opens an otherwise
freewheeling narrative by Kunishima and her dazzling lineup.

After the opening track the set ignites with the
seven-minute scorcher, "Return To Life." Inside of its
retro-progressive ascensions, shakuhachi virtuoso Clive Bell evokes a Japanese
classicism which then vanishes, jarring the imagination. Sean Corby's trumpet
and flugelhorn slash through like a comet, tempered by Bell's flute, essaying a
thrilling, primal statement. The atmospherics are a fine example of Kunishima's
style, mixing eras with sublime naturalism while employing dramatic cultural
markers. She has a concrete points of musical view and isn't afraid to carve
out unexpected territory. 

"The Waves" features a swirling percussive drive by way of Bell's flute, which
conjures a reflexive, cathartic jazz pool, then shifting as Corby's horn
crashes in like a tidal wave. "Kimie" has an afterhours feel, and
lifts the harrowing mood with Kunishima's meandering before being sent aloft by
Bell's firebird flute and Corby's runaway horn. 

A breather comes with the sinewy chamber jazz of
"Spring Rain," with Kunishima, Bell and bassist Paul Moylan
enchanting and vibrant; "Rain Sketch" is equally compelling, with a
darker, more aggressive hard bop feel that seems ponderous, as it retreats to
cinematic effects and keyboard artiness. The elegiac "Dusk,"
featuring Bell's shakuhachi, has its musical roots in antiquity, as Kunishima's
strums the piano wires and Moylan essays lush sonorities, next to the bassist's
bone-dry bowing, for arresting contrasts. There is a haunting and haunted
serenity in the after burns. 

"Promise," a filler track, seems a bit out of
place, but acts as a breather before the title track, with the plaintively
elegant vocal by Rio Roberts. The great interplay of Kunishima's lyricism
around her whispering vocals leaves hope that this is a teaser for a full
session next time around.

Late Autumn doesn't have a studio feel, and
is a well-mixed session engineered by Matthew Collis and produced by Bell,
recorded at 33 Jazz Studio in May 2011. Kunishima doesn't take a larger chunk
of the musical spotlight with her band—even though, as this CD repeatedly
indicates, she has a lot to say. The effects of the dual streams display the
composer's intoxicating moods and unexpected atmospherics.

LEWIS J WHITTINGTON, December 10, 2011.

All About Jazz

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

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.

LAWRENCE PERYER, November 19, 2011

London Jazz 

On this, her third album for 33Jazz, Shizuoka-born,
London-based pianist Taeko Kunishima has retained only shakahuchi player Clive
Bell from her previous recording, Red Dragonfly, but the energy level attained
on that fine album remains undimmed here, provided by trumpeter Sean Corby,
bassist Paul Moylan, and drummer Maxwell Hallett, supplemented by percussionist
David Ross and (on the title-track) by vocalist Rio Roberts.

Instead of the relatively conventional line-up of Red
Dragonfly (the core band of which was a piano trio plus saxophonist Russell Van
Den Berg), Late Autumn sets the composer/leader's alternately punchy and
lyrical piano against an intriguing mix of trumpet and flute, tastefully
tweaked and occasionally embellished electronically by producer Bell.

The all-original material ranges from the texturally
adventurous, stirring "Return to Life", its pleasingly splintered, somewhat
woozy theme giving rise to vigorous piano and flaring trumpet solos; the
alternately slinky and infectiously brisk "Kimie"; the appropriately softly
pattering "Spring Rain"; and the lighter, brighter percussion-driven piece
"Promise", but whatever they're asked to play, the band cohere impressively,
Bell's shakuhachi in particular lending the whole album a welcome
distinctiveness. Imaginative, unexpectedly varied, powerful but sensitive music
from a pianist who should be much better known. (Chris Parker)


A London-based Shizuoka pianist with an original, oblique
angle on acoustic contemporary jazz that combines an oriental flavour (features
shakuhachi player Clive Bell) and contemporary bass grooves.

Catfish (Japan)

Played with an outstanding sense of rhythm, combining flexible and firm. Beginning
with solo trumpet, the shakuhachi effectively offers exotic, oriental colouring.
Then cunning cyber-effects (eg distorted or over-amped trumpet and piano) spring
surprises round every corner.  It’s a kaleidoscopic journey that will keep listeners bemused. Kunishima is an ancient Ninja, giving an outstanding, dignified performance.

Jazz Japan

The British Hebrides islands, waves, rain, dusk and late autumn are her material,
but her songs are inspired by Japanese feelings. A good example of an appealing and unique personality

CD Journal (Japan)

This is vibrant, modern, contemporary jazz. Some songs have elements of American
roots or Japanese traditional music. Playful, revealing and inventive.

Brian Soundy (UK Jazz Radio)

Late Autumn, Taeko Kunishima's third album, opens with “To The Hebrides”, a soulful solo piece,
and after meeting her for the first time since hearing the CD, it is full of
her passion and character. The solo preludes what is to come, capturing a sense
of freedom but still holding on to her musicality and jazz style.

“To The Hebrides” leads perfectly to the second track “Return To Life”, which
features Clive Bell conjuring atmospheric Japanese classicism using the
shakuhachi, which seamlessly melds into a rhythmic pattern from Taeko's opening
riff and Paul Moylan's  bass that is relentlessly present throughout this 7 minute tribute to Taeko Kunishima's
masterful control of atmospherics. The trumpet and flugel horn of Sean Corby cut through the atmospheric plain like a
knife, with Clive Bell's flute echoing in an almost ghostly fashion which holds
onto the classicism conjured in the first few bars. Taeko's imaginative playing
gives the track a feeling of completeness with a courage to go with the

“The Waves” is a percussive piece with some excellent work from Clive Bell's flute,
drummer Maxwell Hallett and bassist Paul Moylan. A trip into a more straight
ahead rhythm sets up a section letting Clive Bell's flute send waves of  magical sounds leading to a cutting Sean
Corby solo. Taeko Kunishima again plays just enough to shape this fascinating
piece. The art of less is so well formed here.

“Kimie” is a 'calm before the storm' track with rhythmic and harmonic sections from
all... but one knows something is coming... Then Clive Bell's flute bursts into
a full-on energetic solo followed by Sean Corby blowing a runaway horn solo.
Paul Moylan is in fine form enjoying this 7 minute romp with some fine bass

“Spring Rain”, a sensitive musical interplay from Taeko, Clive and Paul. The piece has
a underlying urgency which manifests itself in the flute of Clive Bell. In an
almost question and answer format the flute is attempting to say something of
importance but is sedated by the clever, almost chamber jazz feel of his fellow

“Rain Sketch” has a slightly darker feel than the other tracks on this brilliant CD.
The mournful trumpet of Sean Corby is perfect in the mix. Another 7 minute
masterpiece and probably my favourite track. The urgency and expectation built
by drummer Maxwell Hallett is quite extraordinary. As the piece goes into a
free feeling the effects are stunning and again Paul Moylan’s bass is a treat.

“Dusk”: with Clive Bell's virtuoso performance on the shakuhachi this is a track to be
savoured. Paul Moylan's bowing and Taeko's piano strumming is of the essence
giving this piece a freedom and clarity not often achieved on a recording. It
must have been one of those moments we, as musicians, dream of.

“Promise” has a very live sound and as on most of the other tracks, Taeko leaves lots of
space for her musicians. This is for me an exercise in improvisation...beautifully produced and recorded.

On first hearing “Late Autumn”, the title track feels out of context but on
consequent hearings it turns into a promise of things to come, perhaps more
vocal tracks on the next album from Taeko. Rio Roberts has a rather plaintive
voice which fits in totally with Taeko and the album.

Late Autumn is a masterful project, brilliantly composed, produced, recorded and executed. It's
a CD for everyone's CD collection and totally worthy of a 5 Star Rating. Looking forward to the next one, Taeko.

Brian Soundy

ESS Shakuhachi Forum

Here we have Late Autumn, which is the third outing
by pianist/composer Taeko Kunishima. She's from tea country, Shizuoka, Japan
and currently resides in London. Kunishima plays and writes a strange type of
jazz which manages to be disjointed and highly experimental yet seldom
confrontational and always under strict control. These are characteristics of
the new breed of jazzers who learned in school rather than in nightclubs or on
the street. The compositions have an unusual hierarchy, frequently the tail
wags the dog, in the sense that ostinato and riff dictate the melody. Or
sometimes there is no discernible melody. But structure abounds. Many of the
songs feature repetitive backdrops for solos from the instrumentalists. These
backdrops, however, seldom remain static long enough to lull the listener into
a false sense of security before segueing into something unexpected. This ain't
your usual 16 bars, trade fours and repeat the head. Each song has its own
internal logic. 

I would have thought the opening track "To The Hebrides" was a free improv or a through-composition except for the credit "Theme by Kimie Okada". So......I don't know what it is, but
resembles a mash up of offhand piano gestures recalling Bill Evans one moment,
Mozart the next. Like a very good pianist daydreaming while looking out the
window at the landscape. Unifying factor is the pedal point which features
through much of the performance.

This seamlessly flows into "Return To Life", the first of several compositions based on short ostinato patterns in the bass and percussion. Grooves and anti-grooves are reminiscent of the Bruford/Muir era of
King Crimson. Another recurrent device introduced on this track is the heavily
treated and warped trumpet sound of Sean Corby. All of the music on this album
originates on acoustic instruments, but they are frequently altered by producer
Clive Bell. Clive also plays shakuhachi and silver flute on the CD. As a result
the shakuhachi is mixed ten times louder than the other instruments. 

Just kidding!

Clive's tone is a classic Kinko jiari sound and he cleanly executes difficult chromatic melodies and runs. Most of the shakuhachi on the CD is atmospheric in nature or to provide a beautiful tone for stating the
melody. Clive also uses some koro koro effects and other extended techniques in
the rare free sections. His high point however comes on the silver flute during
"Kimie", a tune that swings hard in several different tempos. It is
cheesy to mention Eric Dolphy but he does sound like a more in-tune Dolphy on
this fiery solo. Clive also whips out a nifty shinkyoku-informed intro to
"Dusk". This piece devolves into a noise shakuhachi and arco bass
excursion that is one of the CD's most aggressive moments.

Rhythm section Paul Moylan (double bass), Maxwell Hallett (drums) and David Ross (cajon, percussion) negotiate time signatures and complicated structures with finesse. Math based jazz is usually tiresome but
these compositions can't be played any other way. Most of the time this band
can pull it off. There is almost zero blues feel present, but maybe the
Euro/Japanese jazzers have graduated from that. Moylan's fat and luscious tone
is easy on the ears. He is the bedrock of the many riff based sections. At the
end of the album he unrolls a couple of authoritative solos which left me
wishing for more.

Sean Corby's trumpet sound is the most "jazz" element on this recording. He quotes Dizzy during the exceptionally fine jam on "Rain Sketch". This song is one of the only times when the musicians
seem to be operating democratically rather than leading or backing each other.
I would have liked to have heard more examples of the band going for it in this
vein. In general the music is impressively controlled but the downside of this
approach is that it seldom flirts with chaos, which is a good place for improvisation
to go.

Taeko herself is more a composer than a player, perhaps in
the mode of Carla Bley. Similar to Bley she favors deceptively smooth sounds
which belie the unconventional nature of many of the tunes. She claims Monk as
an influence but I don't hear it. Her movement is more linear than jagged.
Piano in service of the song, not an out of control percussion instrument.
Another thing which may or may not be worth mentioning is that despite her
place of origin and the presence of shakuhachi I do not personally hear much
Japanese influence in the music. Someone else might.

It has become almost a convention that jazz recordings have
a token vocal track in a bid for airplay. Usually it sticks out like a sore
thumb and sometimes ruins the record. I braced myself for this when I saw it
coming in the liner notes. But the title track "Late Autumn" is an
exception to the rule. The (again treated) vocals of Rio Roberts deliver
evocative lyrics to a spacy, meandering, confusing melody that never seems to
get anywhere and is better for it. It's like a cut-up of some dimly remembered
Antonio Carlos Jobim songs spliced together in a dream. This cinematic ending
is an unassuming and poignant end to an adventurous statement. Late
Autumn is a return to the old school concept that an album takes you on a
musical journey and deposits you at the other end subtly altered.

Brian Ritchie



John Barron, (April 2007)

Japanese pianist/composer Taeko Kunishima brings forth a musical melding of Asian exoticism, European romanticism, and American swing on her latest release for 33 Jazz, Red Dragonfly. The London based musician draws on her Japanese heritage to create an original, heartfelt recording.

As a composer, Kunishima is extremely engaging; she creates angular, meditative landscapes, drawing inspiration from impressionist and modern sources. The contemplative “Cold Winter” alludes to Miles Davis’ collaborations with Gil Evans, “Tears in the Rain”, has the harmonic sensibility of Debussy with the temperament of Herbie Hancock, and the spirit of Monk is evident on “Full of Moonlight”.

Amongst Kunishima’s own compositions are arrangements of two Japanese folk songs. “To Be Scolded”, with its Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays inspired groove, is a highly energetic romp featuring the mammoth tenor saxophone tone of Russell Van Den Berg. “The Moon Above The Ruined Castle”, a repetitious medium swinger, is as close as this session gets to straight ahead blowing.

Kunishima’s impressive band members, providing flawless support, each play an integral role in shaping the leader’s vision. Van Den Berg’s rich toned soprano dances elegantly across the jagged 5/4 tempo of “Night Of The Hazy Moon” and the pensive “Misty Mountains”. Drummer Jim Hart demonstrates dynamic layers of sensitivity and bassist Richard Pryce is unrelenting, delivering a solid, personalized foundation. Guest artist Clive Bell adds an element of serenity to the title track and “Ink-Black Night”, with the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute.

The music on Red Dragonfly is captivating. Kunishima’s composing and piano playing have an appealing charm; she has an uncanny way of drawing one in for repeated listening.


Nic Jones, All About Jazz (10 Dec 2006)

Taeko Kunishima and her quartet have largely managed to avoid a lot of the well-covered ground in the modern mainstream area, and in so doing she’s carved out an identity for herself both as a composer and a piano improviser—while the group, admirably suited to the subtle, implied demands of her music, has succeeded in carving out an identity distinctly its own.
Kunishima has utilised her Japanese heritage in her music, and the presence of Clive Bell on shakuhachi on some tracks serves to emphasise this. On “Ink-Black Night” his work has the effect of taking the music far beyond common ground, an impression that's aided in no small part by the fact that Kunishima as a composer doesn't employ too much of the harmonic density that many musicians seem to regard as compulsory these days. Bell 's instrument has a lot in common with the Western flute, but the way he utilises it adds a distinctly different colour to this musical palette.

On “Cold Winter” and elsewhere, Russell Van Den Berg highlights how owing some greater or lesser debt of allegiance to Wayne Shorter need not necessarily manifest itself in tonal reproduction. Instead, the influence manifests itself (particularly in his tenor sax work) in a certain knotty, sometimes intriguingly unresolved way with a phrase—as though even in the quicksilver business of putting out musical ideas, he is at the same time also engaged in a kind of editing process, rigorously tailoring his ideas the meet the demands of the fleeting musical moment.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect of Kunishima's piano work is her penchant for understatement; she never plays five notes when four notes will suffice, and her avoidance of the tricks seemingly so beloved of many younger pianists is welcome indeed. One listen to ”Night Of The Hazy Moon” is enough to confirm this.

If the “Spanish tinge” Jelly Roll Morton referred to was a component in his music, then it might just as easily be said that the “Japanese tinge” in Kunishima's could be the very thing that lifts this programme out of the ordinary. Taken as a whole, this recording is distinctive enough to justify repeated listening.


Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz (2 Dec 2006 )

You always hear about the 'sophomore jinx,' referring to an artist's difficulty in coming up with a second recording that at least matches, and hopefully surpasses, his or her debut. That seems more a problem in popular music, where the talent pool is considerably shallower than in the jazz world.

Japanese-born and now London-based pianist Taeko Kunishima suffers no sophomore jinx on her second outing, Red Dragonfly. Her debut, Space To Be  (33 Jazz, 2004), was an auspicious beginning and an engagingly lyrical set.  Red Dragonfly turns things up a notch and reveals a leap in artistic growth.

Kunishima mixes Japanese themes with jazz modes and comes up with a distinctive and original sound. The opening title tune starts the show with a duo featuring Kunishima on piano and Clive Bell on the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute. It's a subdued, haunting listening experience. The shakuhachi has a hollow, breathy sound, blowing like a gentle breeze over Kunishima's delicate accompaniment. Things get jazzier on “ Misty Mountain” as the core quartet, including Russel Van Den Berg on soprano sax, delves into this inward-looking, pastoral number. “To Be Scolded” takes things uptempo, with Van Den Berg on tenor sax, for a high-spirited jazz romp.

“The Moon Above the Ruined Castle” is listed as a Japanese folk song (Kunishima composed all the rest of the tunes), and it's the same piece that Thelonious Monk played on his Straight, No Chaser ( Columbia, '67). It was listed there as “Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki),” though Orrin Keepnews, in his liner notes to the '96 reissue, says it's actually a Japanese pop song from the thirties. But no matter. Monk's rambling, spirited sixteen-minute take on the tune was a highlight of that disc, and Kunishima's lighter, faster, more succinct approach here is the highlight of Red Dragonfly, with go-for-broke solos by her and saxophonist Van Den Berg, in front of a locked-in bass/drum rhythm, sounding like magic.

“Ink-Black Night” re-introduces the shakuhachi, drifting over a floating rhythm, and ”Full of Moonlight” has an ominous feeling, explored in a more mainstream mode with Van Den Berg's throaty tenor sax.

Taeko Kunishima's artistry evolves with this new set; she proves herself one of the more interesting new voices in jazz with Red Dragonfly.

Chris Parker, the Vortex jazz webpage ( 9  Oct 2006 )

Bookended by two versions of its winsome title-track, one featuring the shakuhachi playing of guest Clive Bell, the other the album's core quartet (saxophonist Russell Van Den Berg, bassist Richard Pryce, drummer Jim Hart), Red Dragonfly filters the traditional music and sensibility of Taeko Kunishima's native Japan through a range of classical and jazz influences ranging from romantic and impressionist piano music to the work of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. If this makes her music sound contrived or precious, however, it's grossly misleading; whether she's evoking bitter-sweet memories by means of filigree-delicate piano work or reinterpreting traditional Japanese themes via robust quartet playing (Van Den Berg a superb asset here, his playing ranging from the most poised soprano breaks to vigorously querulous tenor and the occasional throaty ballad), Taeko Kunishima has clearly thoroughly assimilated, rather than simply dipped into, her varied sources, and the result is an absorbing mix of affectingly melancholic themes with more up-tempo quartet workouts from a punchy, fiercely interactive, cohesive band that promises to deliver in spades in live performance.


Swing Journal Japan, translated by Kimie Okada and Clive Bell (Oct 2006)

A Japanese pianist based in London , whose unique personality has blossomed in the UK . For this CD, the line-up has altered from her previous Space To Be, released in 2004.  The shakuhachi is sometimes deployed as a kind of postmodern lead jazz horn. Kunishima’s originality is displayed by her introduction of Japanese sounds with an emotional impact, and by her choice of musical subjects from nature and the seasons. Thus she succeeds in generating her individual musicality. Red Dragonfly is a promising new development on the Jazz scene.

Catfish Records (Japan), translated by Kazuko Hohki and Clive Bell (Sept 2006)

This work is by a Japanese pianist active in England, who attracted attention with her Space To Be, recorded in 2003 for 33Jazz Records. The basic line-up is a quartet including tenor and soprano sax, but some pieces have guest shakuhachi. The content is good: contemporary and modal music with a very lively spirit. There is Japanese sentiment in some places, given dramatic shape and rich expression. The tunes show a variety of emotions and rhythms, and are sharp and lyrical. It’s a mixture of cool aestheticism and passionate dynamism – new school with roots in classic jazz. They move between straight four beat, swing, blues, melancholic and hard bop. There is shadowy serious funk, Latin groove tendency, or an exotic and mysterious, meditative ballad dance tune for the quintet including shakuhachi. Also a spiritual, idyllic duo between piano and shakuhachi.

Through all the changes, this dramatic journey constantly fills the space with fresh tensions and colourful beauty, so it’s never dull. The musicians play precisely, with masterful technique, in a modal style based on Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner. There is also a melancholy popular song melody with plenty of shadows, clearly evoking Japanese tunes and harmonies. And a Western, folksy phrasing, mild but large scale, showing great powers of exploration. The pianist’s dynamic action is very fresh – the wild tenor sax is based on Coltrane’s early style, and the wild shakuhachi played with dignity and soulfulness – all together they make a colourful, tasty and attractive result. This is a fine quality achievement with plenty of originality.


John Watson, Express & Star (West Midlands, Dec 2006)

Japan has produced many outstanding jazz musicians, but it’s rare to hear them play in this country.

The appearance last night by pianist and composer Taeko Kunishima at Gumbles Jazz Club, held at The Surgery, Stafford , was a special treat.

For Taeko, who is currently based in London, offers compositions and improvisations which reflect the character of the folk and classical traditions of her homeland. Her creations – with titles like "Red Dragonfly" and "Misty Mountain" - are full of atmosphere, blending Japanese scales with jazz harmonies to dramatic effect. There were also hints, at times, of the music of the great contemporary classical composer Toru Takemitsu.

The contribution of flautist Clive Bell to the concert was crucial – he has mastered the Japanese bamboo flute the shakuhachi, its warm, airy tones creating strong musical colours. Bell was also heard on a Norwegian keyless flute, as well as a conventional Western concert flute.

Kunishima’s quartet – completed by bassist Mick Coady and drummer Gary Willcox –  were very effective indeed in the bizarrely-titled tune "To Be Scolded", a strong and funky groove based on a Japanese pop hit.

The group delighted the packed crowd, and it is to be hoped that we hear more from Taeko in the region in the future.


Chris Parker, Vortex preview (Oct 2006)

....few contemporary musicians so successfully blend a particular country's musical tradition with such powerful jazz playing (in this country, John Surman does it best, but it's a rare talent).


Chris Parker, live review (Nov 2006)

Taeko Kunishima played to a respectably sized, appreciative audience, and produced the musical goods expected of them...........


Brian O'Conner, (Oct 2006)

A most unique pairing, classically trained Taeko on piano, and Clive Bell on the Japanese Shakuhachi flute (and others). Jazz is the sound of surprise. This gig certainly proved that with some amazingly 'different' music. Great stuff!


Bob Meyrick, (Nov 2006)

The great thing about jazz is that it can absorb the music of the player's own country and come up with something new. Taeko's compositions were often inspired by her Japanese roots (both the music and the landscape), and Clive Bell has an intimate knowledge and understanding of Japanese music, making him an ideal musical companion. The shakuhachi is a deceptively simple-looking instrument, but he played it with great subtlety and control, coaxing gorgeous sounds from the bamboo flute. Alison Rayner and Gary Wilcox were a supportive and sensitive rhythm section.


Chris Parker, The Vortex Jazz Webpage (March 2006 )

Since starting piano studies at seven with Mozart and Beethoven, Taeko Kunishima has studied the Romantic, Impressionist and modern composers, plus jazz (via an interest in Miles Davis) and traditional Japanese music, and the material on this quintet album reflects, in varying degrees, a good many of these influences. Thus, a plangent Japanese folk song might provide the theme for a straightahead or even lightly funky jazz-based workout; a solo-piano passage drawn from the same source might draw either on Impressionism or the spikier pungency of another of her influences, Stan Tracey; a jazz-bass riff might underlie a piano solo laced with Japanese cadences and harmonies. This is not to suggest, however, that the album is characterised by magpie borrowing; on the contrary, courtesy of solid, committed group interplay from trombonist Paul Taylor (of Blowpipes fame), neatly fluent guitarist James Fenn and tidy rhythm-section work from bassist Oroh Angiama and drummer Michael Simmonds, its music coheres surprisingly well, the leader/composer’s florid lyricism alternating with passages of robust jazz improvisation to produce an intriguingly varied but cogent set.


Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz (March 2006 )

Don't let the cover art fool you—it looks as though it would be right at home on the front of a drifty New Age set of sounds. But Space to Be claims its spot in the mainstream jazz category, taking inspiration from a batch of influences: straightahead jazz, modern classical and Japanese folk songs.

Pianist Taeko Kunishima began piano studies at a young age in her native Japan , absorbing Mozart and Beethoven and later the modern piano music of Chopin, Debussy, Bartok and Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.

Kunishima's jazz compositions lean toward lyricism and delicacy, catchy melodies and occasional driving grooves. Her band is comprised of piano, bass, guitar, drums and trombone, an unusual configuration that makes for an interesting sound, including contrasts between the dance-like delicacy of “Sakura” and the driving forward momentum of of “A Space To Be Filled.” Trombonist Paul Taylor turns the aggression factor up a notch, adding a brassy beef to the proceedings.


Isle of Wight International Jazz Divas Festival (April 2005)

A startlingly original pianist, blending Japanese folk music with early 20th century French Impressionism, and oblique yet infectious jazz sensiblillity echoing Thelonious Monk.


Rio Roberts, Venues (April 2004)

….Taeko is at the vanguard of new jazz talent which is adding exciting new sounds to the jazz genre……