Reviews

Performance reviews of the Anthony Braxton Trio (Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Kyoko Kitamura) at Big Ears Festival (Knoxville, TN) on April 2, 2016:

The Guardian (Seth Colter Walls)
“…I saw two extraordinarily long lines at Big Ears: one for a performance by Eighth Blackbird, Nico Muhly and Philip Glass (I took one look and didn’t even try to get in), and one for Braxton’s second performance of the weekend. (I arrived an hour beforehand.) Though the trio performance was often quieter and more intimate feeling than Friday’s excellent 11-piece set, its effect was somehow even more overwhelming. While once again using his “Zim music” system, the instrumentalists here – Braxton (on saxophones and electronics), brass specialist Taylor Ho Bynum and vocalist Kyoko Kitamura – drew from a different group of Braxton compositions when it was time to create multi-piece collages.

In addition to vocal improvisations that included clear beams of fragmentary song, or else keening screeches and guttural bellows, Kitamura has also performed in Braxton’s most recent operatic productions. So while Braxton’s interactive laptop system emitted electronic washes of sound – and as Braxton displayed his famous wealth of solo saxophone exclamations, timbres and melodies – Kitamura would cue Bynum into strangely comic soliloquies from Braxton’s Trillium opera series. The crowd laughed, where appropriate, but mostly stood in communal rapture for the hour-long set. It was my favorite performance of the weekend – a high from which I still have not come down.

If you missed out: Root for a live album release (as this trio has not issued a recording yet). Kitamura’s vocals can also be heard in the studio recordings of Braxton’s operas Trillium E and Trillium J – while her improvisations with the saxophonist can be heard on four albums included in the massive box set titled 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012.”

The New Yorker (Alex Ross, includes trio illustration)
“…Braxton, wielding an array of reeds, appeared twice, first with an eleven-piece ensemble and then with a trio (Taylor Ho Bynum, on cornet, and Kyoko Kitamura, vocals). Both groups produced dense, fractured masses of sound that could be mistaken for passages in nineteen-fifties compositions by Stockhausen or Nono. Yet Braxton periodically introduced an abbreviated, smokily lyrical bit of melody. Following the rule book that he has devised over the decades, he communicated to his colleagues with coded gestures—play a particular piece, turn to a particular page—and others gave direction as well. In the ensemble, the music had the feel of a freewheeling game; in the trio, it unfolded as a rapt late-night conversation, a collective musing aloud.”

The New York Times (Ben Ratliff)
“…during a rigorous and generous set on Saturday by Mr. Braxton’s trio, with the vocalist Kyoko Kitamura and the cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, I thought: Maybe it is all about packaging. Maybe, with the right hype, any music, no matter how noncommercial, can generate lines around the block.

But that’s not it. Perhaps these people were here because they knew they wouldn’t be pandered to, and that they would have the excitement of figuring out what this group had to do with them. In that moment of connection, you could imagine this music — passionate, unnamable — becoming part of local culture, one enhancing and cultivating the other.”

Concert review by Robert Bush – AllAboutJazz – on the Anthony Braxton Trio performance at Angel City Jazz Fest (Sept.27, 2014, Zipper Hall, L.A.)
“…Kitamura chirped and soared, giggled and roared with an incredible range and laser intonation…Enough cannot be said about the stunning abilities of Ms. Kitamura—she functions at the highest instrumental level and was able to deal with pages of dense notation, acrobatic intervals and intricate layering with devastating surety.” (full review here)

Review by Monsieur Délire on “12 Duets (DCWM) 2012” (New Braxton House Records 2014), the 12-CD box set with Anthony Braxton, Erica Dicker, Kyoko Kitamura and Katherine Young
“…there’s a lot of beauty in this female-strong set. Vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, who Braxton fans discovered in the opera Trillium E, makes octave jumps worthy of Braxton…” (full review here)

Review by John Sharpe – AllAboutJazz – on “Armadillo In Sunset Park” (self-released 2012)
“…a genre-defying debut… […] Her expressive, sometimes theatrical, delivery shows a great vocal range, veering from wordless vocalese to near operatic feats via an alluring speech like enunciation. […] The mock serious chorus “always use rubber gloves when handling raw armadillo,” never ceases to amuse. In performance, the dancers don Pepto Bismol-pink rubber hand wear, which would be the cherry on top.” (full review here)

Review by Richard Kamins on “Armadillo In Sunset Park” (self-released 2012)
“In a little under 31 minutes, Kyoko Kitamura creates a wondrous, if somewhat altered, world with just her voice and piano (with occasional electronics and vocal overdubs.) Playful and serious, this music insinuates itself into your mind and leaves one wanting more.” (full review here)

Review by Bruce Lee Gallanter (Downtown Music Gallery) on “Armadillo In Sunset Park” (self-released 2012)
“This disc is yet another swell surprise as Ms. Kitamura creates her own world with odd stories, voices and sounds. […] Ever since hearing the Mothers of Invention as a teenager, the sound of silly or satirical lyrics sung seriously still cracks me up. Being a mother herself has helped Kyoko to sing these words in a way that is both joyous and ridiculous with a certain innocent-sounding charm. […] Even at a mere 31 minutes, Kyoko Kitamura has her own weird world so that any of us can enter and be swept away by acquiring this splendid offering.” (full review here)

Review by Sergio Piccirilli (El Intruso) on “Armadillo In Sunset Park” (self-released 2012)
“La calidad de tesitura, peso vocal y timbre de Kyoko Kitamura tanto como su dominio técnico e infrecuente combinación de diferentes formas de improvisación vocal, la han establecido como una de las cantantes con mayor proyección de la escena vanguardista del nuevo milenio. […] Kyoko Kitamura, en Armadillo in Sunset Park, no sólo traduce en términos musicales los elementos visuales implícitos en la coreografía sino que, además, dota de vida a cada uno de los personajes e historias relatadas en él merced a la amplitud de su registro, variedad de recursos expresivos y el acabado uso de un particular sentido del humor absurdo.[…]Kyoko Kitamura, en Armadillo in Sunset Park, unifica de manera novedosa mundos artísticos dispares y lo hace con humor, ingenio, gracia y un invalorable instinto lúdico.” (full review here)

From the review by Bruce Lee Gallanter (Downtown Music Gallery) on Vision Festival 16 (2011)

“The final set of the Vision Festival was an extraordinary orchestral Tribute to Billy Bang […] The lead vocal was performed by Kyoko Kitamura and she did an amazing job, her beautiful, heartfelt voice sailing proudly above the swirling strings, reeds and percussion. There were a number of stunning moments throughout the piece, a duo with Kyoko’s voice and Roy Campbell’s (?) trumpet…” (review for Saturday June 11th, Day 7)

“The second night started with an ensemble called Vocal Flight which included three singers – Fay Victor, Kyoko Kitamura & Jean Carla Rodea plus Ken Filiano on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. I wasn’t so sure on what to expect, but I was much impressed nonetheless. […] The ever-supportive Ken Filiano contributed a wonderful bass solo and there was an amazing duo with Kyoko and Tyshawn. ” (review for Monday June 6th, Day 2)

Review by John Sharpe (All About Jazz) on Go-Zee-Lah’s performance during Vision Festival 15 (2010)
“Fronted by the captivating Kyoko Kitamura, Go-Zee-Lah gave one of the Festival’s most theatrical performances […] Spirited group interplay meant they covered a lot of ground in their 40-minute set […] Kitamura acted as the focal point, introducing the tunes, and moving between torch singing, sprechgesang (an expressionistic technique halfway between singing and speaking) and vocal aerobatics in her accomplished delivery…”

Review by Alex Henderson (All Music Guide) on ok|ok’s “Eating Mantis”  (RKM 2008)
“Although vocalists ranging from Betty Carter to Ann Dyer to Kitty Brazelton have made exciting contributions to avant-garde jazz, the vast majority of avant-garde jazz recordings have been totally instrumental. So when a vocal-oriented CD that is relevant to avant-garde jazz comes along, one tends to take notice. Avant-garde jazz isn’t the only ingredient on OK OK’s vocal-oriented Eating Mantis; most of the material combines avant-garde jazz with avant-garde rock, and some fans of art rock and alternative rock are likely to take notice of this experimental recording. But avant-garde jazz is certainly a major part of the equation for OK OK, who have a major asset in lead singer Kyoko Kitamura. Singing primarily in English but occasionally detouring into Japanese, Kitamura is an expressive vocalist who knows how to be quirky and eccentric but is also quite musical…”

Review by Richard Kamins (Hartford Courant) on ok|ok’s “Eating Mantis”
“…Kitamura’s voice is an amazing instrument, with great range.  […] If you’re someone who likes to be challenged, who has to go back and listen until what you hear makes sense (or begins to make sense), look no further. “Eating Mantis” is “new” music that should be heard.”

Review from Point of Departure October 2009 Issue by Bill Shoemaker on Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings “Madeleine Dreams” (Firehouse 12 Records 2009)
“…Kitamura is a gifted singer […] electrifying on Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Could I Give”…”

Review from AllAboutJazz October 2009 Issue by Ivana Ng on Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings “Madeleine Dreams”
“…Kyoko Kitamura flows through the divide between dream and reality with grace. She narrates the first seven tracks, the lyrics of which are excerpts from the story, with a smoky alto that at turns belongs to a children’s storyteller, slam poet or blues singer…”

Review by Richard Kamins (Hartford Courrant) on Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings “Madeleine Dreams”
“…Vocalist Kyoko Kitamura is a wonder here; she serves as narrator, as a character in the song/stories and as another instrument in the ensemble with her siren-like voice…”

Review from JazzTimes about Jamie Baum’s “Solace” (Sunnyside 2008)
“Solace is a no-frills, 74-minute-long major statement by flutist, composer and arranger Jamie Baum. Its impressive centerpiece is her four-part “Ives Suite,” […] Part three, “Questions Unanswered,” is particularly striking, where Kyoko Kitamura’s atonal vocalizing and then her chanting of the words “misleading,” “unintended,” “blame” and “grey zone,” in addition to recorded excerpts from speeches by President John F. Kennedy, all combine to form a powerful anti-war statement. […]” Scott Albin, JazzTimes, August 2008