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Kenso - Kenso II CD (album) cover

KENSO II

Kenso

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.13 | 43 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

ods94065
5 stars Ah, the young Kenso. This is where it first really came together, and the compositions on this album are so strong that half of them have been the cornerstone of Kenso's repertoire ever since. But the orchestration on this album is quite different from where Kenso would later go, giving many of these pieces a very different--and special!--character from their later appearances. Speaking for myself, though Yume no Oka and later efforts are very strong indeed, this happens to be the Kenso album I would most likely take to a desert island.

What I most love about Kenso is the way they skillfully and almost subversively work traditional Japanese scales and melodies into a jazz and prog rock context--that Japanese influence is particularly strong on this album. Though Kenso is known as a jazz rock outfit, there's also a surprising amount of symphonic rock influence on this album--not just in the pieces themselves, which are carefully composed as always, but with the orchestration, as the band skillfully employs vintage synthesizers, augmented by flute. Finally, of course, there's the fact that the level of musicianship is high across the board, and the music on this album successfully employs every shred of it.

It's hard for me to call out highlights on this album, as the quality of all the songs is outstanding. "Sora ni Hikaru" and "Umi," the opener and closer, are excellent representatives of Kenso's style, and their definitive renditions are here. "Umi" in particular is one for the ages--the pentatonic modes are the flute and vintage synthesizers give it an expansive quality, there's a super-sweet, lightning-fast synth solo at 4'28" that no later performance seems to have been able to recapture, and a thrilling, whirling flute arpeggio puts a lot of extra juice on the finish. Those same flute and vintage synthesizers also work their magic on "Hyoto," transforming this from a simple and reflective piano solo into a symphonic masterpiece. "Masui Part 2," "Brand Shiko," and "Sayonara Progressive" (hm, wonder what that's all about?) are all strong, consistent, and energetic pieces that form a backbone of the album and show up in later live albums, but I'd like to call out some of the songs that you probably won't find elsewhere:

"Harukanaru chi e" starts from a startling and curious turn to a Weather Report-like rhythm groove before melting into a interesting blend of Kenso-brand rock, reverse-gated vocals, electric piano, and Hackett-like guitar solo--it's an odd but alluring melange of stuff.

"Naibu e no tsukikage" is a gorgeous tone poem with female vocals and synthesizer that really belongs on an anime soundtrack somewhere.

"Inei no Fue" is as close as this album gets to straight-up symphonic prog, full of dynamic contrasts and development, with a fantastic double-tracked guitar solo. It's a great lead-up to "Umi."

No Kenso fan should overlook this gem, and symphonic prog fans are especially encouraged to give this a whirl, even if fusion's generally not your thing. Finally, if you are a fan of Japanese music and culture, I think the way it is incorporated into this album is well worth a listen.

ods94065 | 5/5 |

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