Exposé Online banner

If Japan has the equivalent of a Happy the Man, Kenso is it. Their sound encompasses everything, from polished symphonic prog, to fusion, Canterbury, even touches of Japanese traditional music. The music is (with a couple of exceptions) entirely instrumental, melodically rich, highly spirited, and completely energized. They've been together since the late 70s, off and on, and the lineup has changed over time, but has always centered around guitarist Yoshihisa Shimizu. In addition to guitar, the lineup typically features dual keyboards, bass, and drums — and early on included a flautist as well.

by Peter Thelen, Published 1996-03-01

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.


Filed under: Reissues, Profiles, Issue 9

Related artist(s): Kenso

Latest news

2021-02-14
SoundQuest Fest 2021 – SoundQuest Fest, first experienced as a live festival in Tucson Arizona in 2010 was created by ambient music pioneer Steve Roach. This 2021 event will unite a worldwide gathering of artists and audience members together for a 3-day online event unique in the realm of ambient music. From March 26-28th a continuous flow of streamed performances, audio-video wonder worlds and deep immersion zones will burn bright on Roach’s YouTube channel. » Read more

2021-02-10
Chick Corea RIP – The sad news has reached us that Chick Corea has Returned to Forever, so to speak. The innovative keyboardist and composer died on February 9 at the age of 79. With a career that spanned from the 60s until shortly before his death, Corea touched many listeners with the incredible variety of music he produced in his lifetime. » Read more

2021-01-18
Asia Minor Third Album on the Way – On January 29, AMS records will be releasing the long-awaited third album by classic Turkish-French band Asia Minor. Released last year in Japan, this will be the widespread debut of Points of Libration. The album features original members Setrak Bakirel (vocals, guitar) and Eril Tekeli (flute, guitar). » Read more

2020-12-09
Harold Budd RIP – Harold Budd, one of pre-eminent American composers of avant-garde and minimalism, has died of complications from the coronavirus. Budd came to prominence in the 70s, championed by Brian Eno on his Obscure Records label, with music that blended academic minimalism with electric jazz and electronic music. Much of Budd's best known work was done in collaboration with other artists, including Eno, Daniel Lanois, Robin Guthrie, Andy Partridge, John Foxx, Jah Wobble, and many others. » Read more

2020-11-20
25 Views of Worthing Finally Gets Released – A while ago, we wrote about the discovery of a "long lost" Canterbury-style gem by a band called 25 Views of Worthing. And now we're pleased to find out that Wind Waker Records has released their music on an LP. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Mellow Candle - Swaddling Songs – I think this one may have been repressed again, since I have seen many copies poke their heads out recently. This album in my opinion is the pinnacle of English progressive folk a la The Trees,...  (1993) » Read more

Tatsuya Yoshida with Igor Krutogolov & Assif Tsahar - Live in the Head – Long time Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida is the master of the instantly inventive. Across multiple real-time collaborations with a who’s-who of the improv scene, his flair for spontaneous hot flashes...  (2009) » Read more

Various Artists - 70 Minutes de Rock Progressif Français pour 30 Balles – OK, here's the deal: Musea has collected thirteen tracks of symphonic progressive rock sung in French, and put it on this low price (70 Francs) sampler CD. If you've been hesitating to take...  (1995) » Read more

Adrian Belew - Op Zop Too Wah – Op Zop Too Wah is an overview of a little bit of everything Belew's been up to from his work in King Crimson to The Bears as well as his own introspective and energy laden singer / songwriting...  (1997) » Read more

Pihasoittajat - Hattukauppiaan Aamu – These two discs contain material culled from three albums released in the early 70s. The earliest album, Kivinen tie Dublinniin (Rocky Road to Dublin), was released in 1972, and finds this Finnish...  (2000) » Read more