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 appears on The Frightnrs’s latest music video, Nothing More to Say, which is the cover song of band’s recent album, Nothing more to say. The album, produced by Victor Axelrod on Daptone Records, made #1 on the Billboard Reggae chart in 2016. The album has received positive reviews from major music media outlets such as NPR, Pitchfork, and others. Norihiro is a vital part of the band's live set and studio roster. The Frightnrs have received positive reviews from the New York Times (concerning the benefit show for our vocalist Dan, who has since passed away) about a benefit show for the singer at Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, New York.
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.