Kenso — Kenso II
(KICS 285, 1982/1993, CD)
by Peter Thelen, 1996-03-01:
Their 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.
The 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.
Kenso'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.
In 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!
I 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.
Related artist(s): Kenso
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