Ken Aihara – Circumstellar

Ken Aihara – Circumstellar

Keyboardist and composer Ken Aihara appeared on TPA’s radar back in 2019 with the release of Multiverse, his impressive debut album. Firmly steeped in the jazz-rock, fusion mould the five track mini album not only demonstrated his undoubtable keyboard skills, but also the strength of his compositions. I remember thinking at the time that Multiverse was such an accomplished release that it didn’t really strike me as a debut. It did however leave me curious to hear any follow up material and some four years later, here we are…

Now before moving on to this new release, band introductions are in order. From the first album Snarky Puppy founding member Bob Lanzetti returns to play guitar on three tracks. Taking on the fretwork for the two remaining tunes we have the phenomenal André Nieri. Evan Marien supplies the impressive bass work throughout, and completing the line-up we have Virgil Donati, Anika Nilles and Jonathan Lundberg on drums. Virgil Donati needs no introduction, surely? Anika Nilles may be familiar, certainly to those who caught the last Jeff Beck tour, she is also the founding member of the excellent Nevell. Last, but not least, Jonathan Lundberg plays on the opening and closing pieces.

Once again Ken Aihara has adopted a ‘cosmic’ theme for this release, and as with the debut album, it opens with a short lived, spacey keyboards passage. Jonathan Lundberg immediately impresses, along with André Nieri and Evan Marien, as they launch into the riff hungry Cosmic Boost. Ken Aihara brings out the whole armoury of keyboards as he, and the band, punctuate and then let fly. We are in fusion mode here – André delivers a stellar solo, similarly Ken dexterously flies up and down the keyboard. Great track. The burning question is, how do you follow that…

Well, Carbon Planet just takes off from there, moving into a funkier-fusion mode. I simply cannot stop playing this track. Bob Lanzetti’s rhythmic guitar is intoxicating, Evan Marien’s bass delightful – busy and superbly executed, and if you needed to know why Anika Nilles is in demand – just take a listen.

Now in all the excitement I’d forgotten to mention Ken, who immediately sets the tone, followed by the opening melody – (keyboard players need to check out his synths) – and then they’re off. If you didn’t click the link before – now take a listen…

First run through and I’m curious as to where the album will take us next, well initially back to 1980 and Jeff Beck’s There And Back. Remembering Tony Hymas’ fiery keyboard intro, Simon Phillips equally incendiary drumming, and coming up to date, Ken Aihara’s ‘cosmic’ theme, then the opening of Mechanical Owl suggested a twisted relation of Space Boogie. Mechanical Owl is a different beast, however like some 40+ years ago, I’m immediately drawn to the drumming. There’s only one guy who plays like this, and the accompanying literature confirms it is, Virgil Donati. I suppose the fact that Ken Aihara has attracted the attention of Virgil speaks volumes for his music. A killer track, followed by the equally impressive Orbit

Closing out this impressive release is Flock Of Pteranodon, (it’s a prehistoric bird thing), and time for each of the band to let fly with solo spots. Not wanting to repeat myself here, suffice to say the album finishes on a high…

At twenty-seven minutes Circumstellar – (disks which surround or occur during star formation, for the curious) – may seem a tad short, and I certainly wouldn’t have objected to more, but the quality of the music across this mini-album is well worth the entry fee. As all the tracks are on Bandcamp (linked below), do yourself a favour and listen to the half an hour’s worth of tuneful, absorbing, oddly metred music. An absolute must for any fusion fan…

01. Cosmic Boost (6:00)
02. Carbon Planet (5:12)
03. Mechanical Owl (4:46)
04. Orbit (5:11)
05. Flock Of Pteranodon (5:51)

Total Time – 27:00

Ken Aihara – Keyboards
André Nieri – Guitar (tracks 1 & 5)
Bob Lanzetti – Guitar (tracks 2,3 & 4)
Evan Marien – Bass (tracks 2,3,4 & 5)
Virgil Donati – Drums (tracks 3 & 4)
Anika Nilles – Drums (track 2)
Jonathan Lundberg – Drums (tracks 1 & 5)

Record Label: Independent
Countr of Origin: Japan / U.S.A.
Date of Release: 10th December 2023

Ken Aihara – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube | X