Exposé Online banner

Kenso — Kenso II
(KICS 285, 1982/1993, CD)

by Peter Thelen, 1996-03-01:

Kenso II Cover art

Kenso I coverTheir first album from '81, simply titled Kenso, featured six tracks of varying length, ranging from the pure symphonic prog of tracks like "Umi" to the more delicate "Inei No Fue" ("The Flute in the Shadows") to an all-out avant-garde piece that takes up most of side two. It is also the only Kenso album that features vocals, albeit sparingly. The LP was originally pressed in a limited edition of a few hundred and has never been reissued, so chances of finding a copy are next to nil. Fortunately, the three best instrumental cuts from it were included as bonus tracks on the reissue of Kenso II.

Kenso II coverThe second album showed more movement toward a symphonic fusion style, blending the energy of jazz-rock with the melodic intensity of progressive, not unlike bands like Hatfield or National Health, but Kenso clearly has their own formula for getting there. The third album, Kenso (AKA Kenso III), from 1985 (with an origami bird on the cover, not to be confused with the first album) moves even further in the same direction, more polished and perfected.

Music for Unknown Five Musicians coverKenso's finest moment, though, has to be their fourth album, a double-live titled Music for Unknown Five Musicians from 1986, which includes material from their first three albums and a couple (at that point) new tracks. This shows the band in their finest setting — live on stage. Kenso has released two more studio albums in the years since: Sparta in 1989 features recordings by two different lineups over a four year period, and is their most 'hard-fusion' album of all, while Yume No Oka from 1991 is a more cohesive effort that rivals the spirit of the early years.

After a second live album release, Live 92, the band decided to hang it up for a while, and have only recently become active again.

Sora Ni Hikaru coverIn the meantime, two discs of early live material have been released. The first is Sora Ni Hikaru - Early Live Vol. 1, and it contains live tracks taken from three shows between December '81 and July '83 — in other words around the time of the second album. Live tapes of this period had been floating around in collector circles for years, so it's good to see that finally the best material has been cleaned up and released on disc. The second disc is Inei No Fue - Live Vol.2, which contains material taken from three different shows in '81, '82, and '89. The bulk of the material is from the '82 show, which puts it squarely in the same timeframe as the first disc. There is also a studio track recorded in October '79 by an early four-piece version of the band, pre-dating their first album by two years!

Inei no Fue coverI would normally recommend the double-live album as the best place to start, but it's impossibly hard to find. Barring that, check out Kenso II for a studio release, or Early Live Vol. 1 for a live starter. All of their albums have my highest recommendation.


by Peter Thelen, 1993-10-01:

Another welcome reissue, prices for original LPs of Kenso's extremely rare first and second albums have been soaring skyward in the last few years, beyond the reach of the average progressive music fan. So at last we have the entire second album, along with the better half of the tracks on the first, all on one compact disc. Their sound in the early years could be likened to a Japanese answer to Happy-The-Man meets Mahavishnu Orchestra. The dominant lead instrument is the flute, backed up by a powerful guitar and keyboard presence, and a very agile rhythm section. The strong influence of Japanese traditional can be heard throughout this bold instrumental set, but no more so than on "Flute in the Dark Shadow" (#4) and the three tracks culled from the first album. Throughout, the compositions are brilliant and incredibly sophisticated, and the performance is spirited... of course this is no news to anyone already familiar with Kenso's more recent output, for whom this one is a must-have. For anyone not familiar with Kenso, this is as good a place as any to start. My highest recommendation.

Filed under: New releases , Issue 1 , 1993 releases, 1982 releases

Related artist(s): Kenso

More info

Latest news

2020-03-24
Bill Rieflin RIP – The sad news reaches us today of Bill Rieflin's death. Rieflin was best known as a drummer in bands ranging from post-punk to industrial to indie-rock to progressive rock, including work with The Blackouts, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Land, and King Crimson. Rieflin had been battling cancer for several years, and succumbed to it on March 24. He was 59. » Read more

2020-03-17
Cruise to the Edge and Seaprog 2020 Festivals Postponed – The worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus has started to produce casualties in the music world, and festivals are not immune. We've had word that both the Cruise to the Edge (originally slated for March 27 - April 1) and Seaprog (originally June 5-7) have been postponed to later dates, with those dates to be announced. » Read more

2020-03-06
McCoy Typer RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of one of the most influential pianists in the history of jazz, McCoy Tyner. His tenure with John Coltrane in the early 60s includes some of the most treasured recordings of the era, including My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. After leaving Coltrane's group, he had a long and successful solo career. He was 81. » Read more

2020-02-18
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Anekdoten - Gravity – The most distinctive things about Anekdoten have always been overdriven bass, Mellotron, cello, and the vocals. This CD answers the question of what happens when you remove two of those elements,...  (2003) » Read more

Amorphis - Am Universum – Back when I was in my early teens, I went through a phase where I liked heavy metal. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid was my favorite LP. That phase didn’t last very long, and I haven’t...  (2001) » Read more

Catharsis - Le Bolero du Veau des Dames & Et S'Aimer – Catharsis were one of the most esoteric of the French 70s rock groups, combining influences of rock, folk, classical, psych and medieval into an unusual and distinctly individual mold. Led by...  (1995) » Read more

Nirgal Vallis - Y Murio la Tarde – This Mexican quintet dates to the early 80s, to Mexico City's blossoming underground progressive scene. In 1985, they recorded one side of an album, In Principio / Y Murio la Tarde, shared with a...  (1996) » Read more

DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid & Dave Lombardo - Drums of Death – DJ Spooky (Paul Miller) and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo are the core of this oddly compelling recording. Together with bassist Jack Dangers, this cleverly arranged fusion of samples and hard rock...  (2006) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues