I have this memory of Norihiro Kikuta and I jamming back we were both students at Berklee College of Music. I remember us recording some tracks together and how much fun it was. A really musical guy, I always enjoyed listening to his blues + jazz infused playing. Over the years, we kept in touch and most recently we touched base again. I reviewed his latest album, Oporo (which I love!) and then asked if he would be open to be a part of #AzCreativeFridays. I’m very happy to feature this amazing talent today in this interview. Let’s learn more about him!
Norihiro Kikuta has been developing a reputation as one of the most promising guitarists –incorporating jazz, soul, and reggae elements to create his signature sound.
Born in 1984 Sapporo, Japan, Norihiro was inspired by Chicago Blues at an early age. Following a stint with a local band, he began performing professionally at 18 years old. After cutting his teeth on gigs throughout Tokyo, he attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he honed his guitar playing and production skills from 2005–2008. While there, he met professors/musical mentors such as Jim Kelly, Matt Jenson, Skip Smith, Winston Maccow, and Jon Damian. While attending Berklee, he toured throughout the US with assistant professor Matt Jenson’s project The Liquid Revolution, legendary New Orleans Band The Wild Magnolias, Russell Batiste of The Funky Meters among others. He also performed in the Montreal Reggae Festival as a school band representative. He also earned an achievement-based scholarship, helping him to complete his education. He graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Music in 2008. He eventually relocated to Tokyo, and subsequently to New York City, where his musical career has progressed both as a leader and a sideman.
Norihiro released his first EP Vegetable Soup in 2012. The album features Josh Antonucci (vocal), Ayumi Ueda (crystal bowl), Brendan Landis (beats), and Adam Tressler (guitar). One of the tracks, Why Worry So from this EP has received a lot of compliments from the fanbase. Jazz journalist Eric Frazier wrote in his review, “This group is committed to the full extent of their artistry, because the music is so tight and cohesive.”
In 2018, he released a touching new album Oporo. The style of this release is beautifully cinematic and authentically emotional, allowing different influences to creep in, creating a sound that feels vividly inspiring and deeply far-reaching. The album has received positive reviews. As Az Samad described “this Haiku like collection of pieces to me is a reflection of Norihiro’s Japanese background coupled with the American experience. Definitely not easily placed in a particular genre, he brings in a variety of influences to capture his experiences over the years.”
As a sideman, which has been Norihiro’s majority part of the career, he has worked with The Frightnrs (Daptone Records), Top Shotta Band with Screechy Dan, Ayanna Irish, Hey Exit (of Of Plants), Erin Barra (Ableton), Jeanine Truly, Rozhan Razman (Riro Musik) among many others.
Norihiro has a special bond with New York City’s reggae scene and has been working with a number of artists and bands like The Frightnrs, Top Shotta Band with Screechy Dan, Fari Difuture and more. Mush One (Top Shotta Band) says “Nori is a master of jazz and blues, and his application of these styles to reggae perfectly and uniquely fits our vision of jazz- and horn-influenced reggae music. It is almost as if one of the classic guitar greats had gone to Jamaica and started playing ska and reggae.”
Norihiro also participated in the Off-Broadway musical Katdashians! Break the Musical! and 90210! The Musical led by music director Assaf Gleizner. He mentioned about Norihiro, “Nori immediately struck me as an exceptional player. His ability to add his own unique style made a great addition to the show.” The musicals, playing at the NYC Theatre District’s Elektra Theatre, Theater 80 (both Off-Broadway), and Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse (Broadway) have been reviewed by the New York Times, CNN, Chicago Tribune, and the New York Daily News among others.
When not in the studio producing music like his albums Vegetable Soup and Oporo, Norihiro is playing with his band as a Trio or Quartet throughout New York City and his hometown Sapporo. Currently, he is in the stage of final arrangement on the band’s first album, which is set for an early 2019 release date.
And now on to the interview!
1. What’s your latest project?
I released the album Oporo recently.
It’s a compilation of music I wrote for some short films and own Instagram posts. I wasn’t intend to release this album but realized I had a pretty of songster gave it a shot.
Besides playing as a sideman, my focus is own band. I started the band since I arrived in New York in 2013. It has been a great journey. I had some shows in my hometown Sapporo as well. I feel like the band is finally ready to release the first album pretty soon!
2. What inspires your music?
As far as my composition goes, most of my musical sketches are inspired by people, community and places. I have been writing this way since I started writing music. This might shift into a little more vague objects. It’s suitable to my band if a song have enough capacity to carry member’s improvisation rather than a song is about this particular “story”.
3. What’s your 5 Desert Island Albums?
Lush Life – John Coltrane
The Bridge – Sonny Rollins
Full House – Wes Montgomery
‘Nuff Said! – Nina Simone
Curtis/Live! – Curtis Mayfield
4. Who’s one artist/musician that you love but most people probably don’t know of?
GOOD SONGS. I have been very fortunate to play with The Frightnrs and love being in this band. The band & their community is like a family. And their musical focus is very sharp. I am learning a lot from them. They already have a big fan base but I am spreading their music as much as I can.
5. What’s an advice you wish someone told you when you started in the arts?
“You’re gonna die.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
6. As a guitarist and composer, what has been your biggest challenge in your work? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is trying to stay on my own path musically and socially. It’s really easy to be influenced too much by others just because there are so many great musicians in New York. Practicing hatha yoga is helping me a lot with this : focus and consistency.
7. How do we reach you?
Thank you for your time Nori!
Thank you for reading this week’s instalment of #AzCreativeFridays. Please do check out the past interviews (31 so far, including this one) and come back for the next one. Stay tuned! 🙂
Read the recent [Creative Fridays] interview:
[Creative Fridays] #14 : Taylor Roberts
7-String Solo Guitarist
[Creative Fridays] #16: Scott Murphy
Saxophonist and Composer
[Creative Fridays] #17: Nisa Addina
[Creative Fridays] #18: Jake Shimabukuro
[Creative Fridays] #19: Jared Sims
[Creative Fridays] #20: Gabriel Lynch
[Creative Fridays] #21: Rizal Tony
Jazz Guitarist and Educator
[Creative Fridays] #22: Raja Farouk
Multi-Instrumentalist and Sessionist
[Creative Fridays] #23: Kho Chia Wen Sharon
[Creative Fridays] #24: Josh Maxey
Jazz Guitarist & Educator
[Creative Fridays] #25: Toru Watanabe
[Creative Fridays] #26: Jordan Klemons
Jazz Guitarist & Music Educator
[Creative Fridays] #27: Armen Movsesyan
Jazz Guitarist & Music Educator
[Creative Fridays] #28: Gwen Guo
[Creative Fridays] #29: Sean McGowan
[Creative Fridays] #30: Rendra Zawawi
Film Music Composer
[About Creative Fridays]
The original Creative Fridays was an interview series I did back in 2012. Published on my website, www.azsamad.com, it explored the musical influences of various musicians from all over the world. Relaunching this now in 2018, there are some cool add-ons. For a super obvious one, we’ve now added Spotify and YouTube links whenever possible for the Desert Island Albums list.
This to me is amazing because you can actually immediately listen to the recommended albums. Coming from a generation that used to make trips to the record store to check out new music, it still boggles my mind that we can immediately listen to the records that is recommended here. Imagine if you listened to the 5 suggested albums – how much could you learn from it?
Also, in addition to the original questions from the series, I’ve added a new question into the mix asking about the biggest challenge each individual has faced in their work. I’ve found that we all can benefit by learning from one another. Let’s share and grow together!
If you know a musician who you think could be a good fit to be featured in Creative Fridays, please contact me with your ideas. The focus is in diversity for music, cultural background, geography, age and experience. It doesn’t matter where you are around the world, if you’re a creative making interesting music on an interesting journey and have something to share, please reach out to me. Please do note, due to this being a weekly series, the interview may be featured later in the year depending scheduling.
Thank you! 🙂
[The Original Series]
Season 1: Every week for 13 weeks, published from Feb 2012 to April 2012.
[Creative Fridays] #1 : Kevin Broken Scar
(Melbourne Singer-Songwriter/Sound Engineer)
[Creative Fridays] #2 : Deborah Crooks
(SF Bay Area Singer-Songwriter)
[Creative Fridays] #3 : Dylan Kay
(UK/Auckland Jazz Guitarist)
[Creative Fridays] #4 : Azmyl Yunor
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter/College Lecturer)
[Creative Fridays] #6 : TragiComedy
[Creative Fridays] #7 : Candelaria
(Oakland Cumbia-Dub Band)
[Creative Fridays] #8 : Pete Teo
[Creative Fridays] #9 : Lori McKinney
(West Virginia Bandleader/Festival Organizer)
[Creative Fridays] #10: Helen Sherrah-Davies
(UK/Boston Violinist-Composer & Berklee faculty)
[Creative Fridays] #11: Adam Everett
(SF Bay Area Drummer-Composer)
[Creative Fridays] #12: Julian Chan
(Malaysian Jazz Saxophonist)
[Creative Fridays] #13: Sharon Chong
(Malaysian Keyboardist and Vocalist]
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