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

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more

2019-02-21
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more

2019-01-31
Keyboardist Ingo Bischof R.I.P. – Keyboard player Ingo Bischof, best known as the longtime keyboard player of German band Kraan, passed away on January 29th, 2019. Bischof was born January 2, 1951 in Berlin-Kreuzberg and joined Kraan in 1975. » Read more

2019-01-11
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Peter Hammill - X My Heart – Here's another work in the "difficult artiste" series from prolific songwriter Peter Hammill. How many releases does this make for him? Over 20, not including compilations? He has...  (1996) » Read more

Hawkwind - Chronicle of the Black Sword – This incarnation of the band is the same as the one that released Church of Hawkwind, except Alan Davey became a full-fledged member, and Martin Griffin was replaced by Danny Thompson on drums and...  (1994) » Read more

Marble Sheep - Message from Oarfish – Marble Sheep is a Japanese psychedelic rock band playing wild, ecstatic, hypnotic, psychedelic, and noisy rock who were formed in 1987 by ex-White Heaven guitarist Ken Matsutani, the owner of the...  (2008) » Read more

Chas Smith - Descent – Like opening a portal into a dreamworld, Chas Smith’s music pulls the listener in immediately. The disc contains two sidelong tracks and a shorter ten minute closer, all explorations in...  (2006) » Read more

The Underground Railroad - Through and Through – While this debut is impressive for its compositional savvy and great arrangements, one needs to remember that two of the main movers in this four-piece unit are guitarist Bill Pohl and keys-man Kurt...  (2000) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues