Thomas Haley: You said you're much better now than you've ever been, and you're getting better…Masabumi Kikuchi: Because I'm free.
TH: What do you mean?
MK: Free. Freedom of choice. I can go anywhere, because I start believing in myself.
Ethan Iverson: Seems to me that you [and Paul Motian] share something about space.
MK: Yeah. Yeah…space to give opponent.
EI: Opponent! [Laughs]
MK: Yeah, opponent! Opponent? Is that how you say it?
EI: Yeah that's right. Collaborator and opponent.
MK: “Just floating. Floating sound and harmony. No songs.”
It is a great regret of mine that I never saw Masabumi "Poo" Kikuchi perform with Paul Motian, by all accounts his musical soulmate. I did see Poo play a short solo tribute to his departed friend and longtime collaborator, and I'll never forget it. There's a sizable body of Poo/Paul work on record, and I've only scratched the surface: Sunrise, plus a couple of the Tethered Moon and Trio 2000 discs.
Having heard the sad news of Poo's death, I put on the 2004 Tethered Moon album Experiencing Tosca last night.
"Prologue," a Poo solo feature, is unreasonably gorgeous. Light and warmth and an angelic touch. "Part I," by contrast, is craggy, even forbidding. As with the sessions documented in the excellent short documentary "Out of Bounds," linked above, there's a sense that in playing this album, the listener is stumbling into a private rite. That though the music may at times sound rapturous, it is fundamentally insular, a fulfillment of the players' personal missions, individual and collective. If the Motian/Frisell/Lovano trio embodies a giving, generous spirit—I'm generalizing, of course; like most Paul Motian endeavors, that trio embodies all things—Tethered Moon aims at something thornier, harder to grasp. The way the trio vacillates between beauty and its opposite, between something that might be called swing and total fracture, seems almost reckless. Not wanton or destructive, just stubborn in its freedom of choice. That's the spirit of the best Paul Motian music, and Poo was clearly dialed into it.
To some, Poo was simply that eccentric pianist who growled strangely as he played; to Motian, he was some kind of seer. They got each other, and that rapport practically sweats from the speakers when you listen to them play together. Poo and Paul: letting go; obeying instinct, both their own and that of each musical event. Songs or no songs. Floating or earthbound. Spacious or dense. Only the moment knows. Separately and together, they will be missed.