Those who haven't had the good fortune of experiencing Kenso in a live setting can now have the next best thing! Beneath the beautiful cover artwork by Shinsaku Fujita lies the first DVD release by the Japanese progressive fusion quintet: Ha-re-ki, a full concert in excess of 100 minutes that features choice cuts from the band's twenty-five year recording history. Recorded in the summer of 2002 at On Air East, the six-camera shoot provides nearly every practical angle possible; this allows for horizontal and vertical split-screen viewpoints, sometimes moving up to three and even four splits to emphasize call-and-response & unison lines. Kenso's current lineup has remained intact since 1991's Yume No Oka (with one slight exception), so the players' immediate and ever-resilient chemistry can finally be witnessed as well as heard — no easy feat unless you happen to reside in the vicinity of Tokyo (or unless you were lucky enough to attend ProgFest 2000)!
Kenso isn't one of progdom's most cherished, most consistent instrumental acts for any small reason: the compositions are always fresh and exciting, and the band only gets better with each album (whether the hoi polloi get it or not is another matter). Albums like Kenso II, Sparta, Yume No Oka, and Esoptron are represented by picks like "Sora Ni Hikaru," "Hyoto," "Les Phases de la Lune II," "Mediterranean and Aryan," and "Gips," all of which pack bigger wallops onstage than off. "Fist Of Fury" — an ode to Bruce Lee from the last studio album, 2002's Fabulis Mirabilibus de Bombycosi Scriptis — and "Bifuka," to name just two, offer simultaneous views of keyboardists Kenichi Mitsuda and Kenichi Oguchi trading licks on piano, synth & organ. Ha-re-ki also reveals Mitsuda to almost exclusively handle the piano lines, with Oguchi doing the same for organ; both men also have digital synthesizers in tow, but Mitsuda plays a few elegant solos/ostinatos on a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. Again, Mitsuda is a fantastic pianist, and it's delightful to see him revel in every arpeggio, chord, and note — it's obvious he'd rather be doing nothing else. Founder/guitarist Yoshihisa Shimizu really burns it up and comes off like a composite of Di Meola & Blackmore, and many other pairings. Shimizu's tasteful licks and formidable solos make him as qualified a lead guitar player as any, from the opening chords of "Fist Of Fury" to the emotive shredding in "Good Days, Bad Days." Bassist Shunji Saegusa's and drummer Masayuki Muraishi's performances are likewise exemplary — the bass solo in "Hyoto" is a pivotal moment — and under no circumstances do those two go ignored by the camera eye.
Some of the most memorable footage involves a guest performer: vocalist Keiko Kawashima. Kawashima actually kicks off the proceedings with a solo voice piece, then vanishes until she lends the background vocal texture to "Prelude To Concealment." Roughly forty minutes later, she reemerges into an integral role with her captivating lead in "A Grim Diary" — all of which is sung in impeccable Spanish, inflections and all. Keep your thumb hovering above the rewind function, as you'll need it for this segment and many others. [Both selections are from Fabulis Mirabilibus de Bombycosi Scriptis.]
An animated menu reveals song select and three bonus chapters of footage excised from the concert, consisting almost entirely of Shimizu communicating with the audience and talking shop. At one point, the mic is passed to Oguchi and his spot begins to resemble a comedy routine. Naturally, all of the banter is in Japanese, except for the words Mahavishnu Orchestra. A slight downside for some might be the packaging: Ha-re-ki is housed in a standard jewel case and only has a four-sided booklet. That's right, no keepsake case, and no twenty-four page, full color booklet. The upside: it fits into your case alongside the rest of your Kenso titles. This DVD may not prove as easy to come by as most, so start by visiting the band's web site or checking with import specialists, like Syn-Phonic, who handle Japanese releases. The effort will be well worth it: this is simply one of the best concerts to show up on DVD in recent memory.
3. Fist of Fury
4. The Cunning Madrigal
5. Prelude to Concealment
8. Let Us Go With The Child Who Makes Wishes Come True
9. Gessha-Senko (Boating in the Moonlight)
10. Keyboard solo [Mitsuda]
11. Echi dal Foro Romano
12. A Grim Diary
13. Les Phases de la Lune II
14. The Ancient in My Brain
15. Mediterranean and Aryan
16. Sora Ni Hikaru (Shining in the Sky)
18. Good Days, Bad Days
19. The Daughter of a Recluse
20. Amalgamation of Self and Others [solo piano: Shimizu]
Total time: ±2 hours