Norihiro Kikuta is a distinguished guitarist, bandleader, and educator who has headlined performances both in the USA and Japan, incorporating jazz, soul and reggae elements to create his signature sound. Norihiro’s band plays his original compositions and a selection of the standard repertoire. Their music has been described as a reflection of Norihiro’s Japanese background coupled with his American experience.
In 2018, Norihiro released a critically acclaimed album Oporo. Well-known jazz critic, James Fleming of All About Jazz exalted the album figuratively describing its contents as “ Small jewels that can be held in the delicate palms.” Mr. Kikuta’s band has headlined performances at various distinguished venues and events on the East Coast and Japan such as Rockwood Music Hall (NYC), Silvana (NYC), Shrine World Music Venue (NYC), Tomi Jazz (NYC), Why Not Jazz Room (NYC), NY de volunteer (NYC), Flatbush Frolic! (Brooklyn), JZ Brat (Tokyo), Iplikana(Tokyo), Ku(Sapporo), Jericho(Sapporo), Hey-Joe(Yokohama), among others.
As a core / critical performer/ lead instrumentalist at distinguished events and for prestigious venues and organizations, Norihiro performed with numerous critically acclaimed bands and singers such as The Frightnrs (Daptone Record, Marked on Billboard #1 with recent album Nothing More to Say), The Top Shotta Band (performances at B.B.King Blue Club in NYC, Governors Island Seafood Festival), Hey Exit (Of Plants), Erin Barra (Ableton artist and an associate professor at Berklee College of Music and Berklee Online), Ayanna Irish (background singer for multi-instrumentalist, songwriter Booker T Jones), Victor Axelrod (Producer for Grammy Awarded singer Amy Winehouse’s album Back To Black), Keita Ogawa (Grammy award-winning percussionist as a member of Snarky Puppy), among many others.
As an educator, Norihiro has worked with Soul Arrow Music, Inc (Tokyo) in 2009-2010 and Amadeus School of Music (NYC) in 2014-2016. He has been teaching beginner-to-intermediate guitarists, specializing in an accessible approach to jazz theory and chord structure. He also taught a number of students who were taking the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) exam for guitarists and led them to their success.
Born and raised in 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. In the spring of 2005, after cutting his teeth on gigs throughout Tokyo, he was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts.
At Berklee, Norihiro studied with musicians and educators such as Jim Kelly (Performance with Gary Burton, Jim Odgren, and others. Author of Guitar Workshop with Jim Kelly, Berklee Press), Jon Damian (Performed and recorded with Boston Symphony Orchestra,Bill Frisell, and others), Matt Garrison (runs ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, NY; described by the New York Times as “an electric bass virtuoso”; has toured with Herbie Hancock and others), Skip Smith, Winston Maccow, and many others.
In 2006, Norihiro joined assistant professor Matt Jenson’s project The Liquid Revolution. The band played in distinguished venues throughout Boston such as Berklee Performance Center, Community-art-center, and among others. He also performed at the Montreal Reggae Festival in Canada as a school representative which lead by Matt Jenson.
While in Berklee, Norihiro recorded for Alen Yue’s This is not about Jazz (2006), Akiko Iwase’s Mirai Future (2006) and Jeanine Truly’s Jeanine Truly (2009) as an accompanist and a co-writer.
Seeking full immersion into the roots of Blues and Jazz, Norihiro visited New Orleans and studied with some of the city’s most respected musicians – The Wild Magnolias, Marva Wright, Papa Grows Funk, among others. In 2007, Norihiro joined New Orleans based professional bassist Nori Naraoka’s band 93D with Brian Coogan (a band member for Grammy awarded singer Norah Jones’s guitarist & composer Adam Levy’s band, Grammy-nominated electronic music producer Pretty Lights, Stanton Moore, among others) and Russell Batiste Jr. (has performed with wide range of musicians and bands including Papa Grows Funk,Vida Blue,Harry Connick Jr.,Maceo Parker and more). The band toured throughout Japan, including one of the biggest music festivals, Ueda Joint, in Nagano prefecture.
Norihiro 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.
After Berklee, Norihiro played for a number of singers both in NYC and Tokyo such as Erin Barra & One hitters (The Bitter End in NYC), Major “Choirboy” Johnson (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Rio Hara (JZ brad – one of the biggest jazz clubs in Tokyo), Imperial Records artist Kousuke Kamishin (Thumbs up in Yokohama), Yoko Dejima (Ebisu Ekimae Bar in Tokyo), among others.
In 2011, Norihiro played on critically acclaimed album Illusions (Blackheart Records) by Erin Barra (Ableton artist and an associate professor at Berklee College of Music and Berklee Online). The album was recorded at the internationally acclaimed recording studio Avatar Studios in New York, NY. In the same year, he recorded kiborikokiboiro records 004 NORI KIKUTA for Tokyo based art project Kiboriko Kibori and Tokyo based drummer Kyoko Arita’s Arita+.
In 2012, Norihiro released his first EP Vegetable Soup. The album features Josh Antonucci on Vocal, Ayumi Ueda (founder of the international vocal group “Women of the World”), Brendan Landis (Of plants), Adam Tressler, among many others. About the EP, Mackenzie Horne from All About Jazz said,“ Kikuta could have easily used Vegetable Soup to showcase his well-documented versatility. He has forgone such a display and in exchange has produced a coherent private narrative. Kikuta possesses a poet’s instinct for storytelling; by stripping away all unnecessary flourishes, plot twists, and gimmicks, he has crafted a digestible, pleasant account without making light of his subject”. Jazz journalist Eric Frazier said, “This group is committed to the full extent of their artistry because the music is so tight and cohesive”.One of the tracks, Why Worry So from this EP has received a lot of compliments from Norihiro’s fanbase.
In 2013, Norihiro relocated to New York City, where his musical career advanced further both as a leader and a sideman.
As a Bandleader, Norihiro’s band has headlined performances at various distinguished venues and events in New York City, such as Rockwood Music Hall, Silvana, Shrine World Music Venue, Why Not Jazz Room, Tomi Jazz, Baruch College, Flatbush Frolic!, NY de volunteer, among others. His band plays his original compositions and a selection of the standard repertoire.
As a pit musician, Norihiro participated in the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway musical Katdashians! Break the Musical! and 90210!. The Musical led by music director Assaf Gleizner. 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 and among others.
Norihiro also worked as the house guitarist at one of the biggest churches in the Boston metro area, Desire of Nations Church, NYC (2015-2016), Hill of the Lord Ministries, Brooklyn NY (2008) performing regularly. His extraordinary guitar skills, sight-reading skills, and clear musical direction were critical to the church’s musical program.
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, Deloy Melody, Peter Ranks, Fari Difuture and many others.
In 2014, Norihiro joined active reggae band Top Shotta Band featuring Screechy Dan based in Brooklyn, New York. The band had residencies at the most prestigious New York City venues including The Hall at MP in Williamsburg during summer 2016, which concert garnered a positive review for the authoritative Reggae City publication (reggae-city.com). The band also opened for legendary reggae singer Maxi Priest at B.B. Kings Cafe in Manhattan as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival. The band was invited to play at the Governors Island Seafood & Reggae Beach Party for an audience of thousands. Top Shotta Band consists of and/or has featured as special guests some of the best and most distinguished reggae artists working today, including Screechy Dan, Delroy Melody, Peter Ranks, Professor Grizzly, and Tonto Irie, amongst others.
Since 2015, Norihiro has played numerous concerts with Queens NY based Rock-Steady, Reggae band The Frightnrs as a band member in distinguished venues throughout New York City such as Pioneer Works, Brooklyn Bowl, The Bell House, The Swamp, and others. Norihiro has opened for the legendary ska band, The Slackers, for their annual holiday show. Norihiro appears in The Frightnrs’s music video Nothing More to Say, filmed for the titular song from our recent critically acclaimed album Nothing More To Say (Daptone Record). The album marked #1 on Billboard Reggae Albums chart in the week of September 24th, 2016. The video was released exclusively via Pitchfork before being released on all platforms, along with a glowing review. The album was produced by Victor Axelrod who also produced Amy Winehouse’s Grammy Awarded album Back To Black (2006). Norihiro had shared the stage with Victor at Dan Klein Benefit Show in Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn NY.
Norihiro worked with distinguished musicians such as Hey Exit (Of Plants), Ayanna Irish (background singer for multi-instrumentalist, songwriter Booker T Jones) at The Bitter End, Singer-songwriter Mariko Morimoto at Rockwood Music Hall, Jeanine Truly at ShapeShifter Lab and La Caye, Zack Orr’s critically acclaimed project 365 Days of Song , Recording session for Violinist Kiho Yutaka’s Music Video at Riro Muzik (Their list of clients include Beyoncé Touring Inc., Joe Hisaishi, Blood Blockade Battlefront and more), among others.
Norihiro’s second EP Oporo released in 2018, the music being composed/produced/performed by himself. About the EP, the music being composed/produced/performed by himself. Oporo was released from a record label for avant-garde music called Of Plants own by Brendan Landis. About the EP, James Fleming from All About Jazz said,“ Small jewels that can be held in the delicate palms….far from sounding unfulfilled or unexplored, they tantalize like unconfirmed rumors of impending joy.” Active music blog in Malaysia Az Samad Lesson by Guitarist Az Samad said, “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.”
After Norihiro relocated to Japan in 2018, he continued playing with his band at various distinguished venues in Japan such as JZ Brat (Tokyo), Hey-Joe(Yokohama), Iplikana(Tokyo), Ku(Sapporo), Jericho(Sapporo), After dark cafe(Sapporo), among others. On September 2019, due to Norihiro’s exceptional reputation and professional aplomb, he was featured on one of the series called “Cats in the North City” serialized to feature accomplished musicians active in the northern cities, on one of the longest selling Japanese major published jazz magazine “Jazz Criticism”. He also collaborated with distinguished musicians such as guitarist Yutaka Hirasaka (Orikami Records), drummer Takumi Ogasawara (Touring drummer for Singer-songwriter Tatsuro Yamashita), pianist Yoshihiro Tomonari (Band member for Japanese major label singer-songwriters such as Ayumi Hamazaki, Miyuki Nakajima, Toshiki Kadomatsu and more), among others.