Reviews for DON'T BLINK:

"When the short form ventures give way to the more expansive and patiently crafted soundscapes, Kono moves effortlessly among an entire palette of woodwind instruments, crafting elegant melodies and clear, economical improvisations. And although this recording showcases a wide variety of styles, from that of “Smoky Madtom Hoedown”—part Béla Fleck and part Steps Ahead—to the more straight ahead tenor-infused modal swinger “Tipping Point,” to the hard driving and panoramic “River of Fire,” all of the selections fall neatly into the overall voice and vibe of the album. 

The instrumental performances on Don’t Blink are uniformly excellent within a warm blend of effortlessly rendered grooves, and adventurous though understated harmonic explorations.  The solo passages are concise and perfectly proportioned to serve the overall ends of the compositions.  The result is a beautifully crafted and earnestly presented work of art."

--College Music Symposium 7/10/2019


"...even without knowing the inspiration for each song, "Don't Blink" is filled with attractive melodies, impressive solos, fine interaction, and a mature yet adventurous attitude of on the part of Ben Kono and the ensemble. There are many of us who believe that the half-steps forward and full steps backward taken by the last two Presidential administrations (with the support of the Senate and the House of Representatives) have not come close to solving the issues inherent in the song titles.  But, listener, keep an open mind when approaching this album - the rewards are many."

--Richard Kamins, Step Tempest 5/23/2019


Reviews for CROSSING

'CROSSING' TOP DEBUT ALBUM OF 2011--Jazz Journalists Association


"Kono is one of the stal­wart ses­sion men on the New York scene, from Broad­way to the stel­lar big bands of Darcy James Argue and John Hol­len­beck. His ver­sa­til­ity as a player comes through on Cross­ing in a rich range of musi­cal think­ing; all the pieces are his own, and his writ­ing makes excel­lent use of word­less voice, french horn, and his own ter­rific flute and double-reed play­ing. His writ­ing makes the band, with Heather Laws the afore­men­tioned singer/horn player, Henry Hey on piano, gui­tarist Pete McCann, John Hébert on bass and drum­mer Hol­len­beck, sound enor­mous. The musi­cal ideas come out of the con­tem­po­rary legacy of sophis­ti­cated, inter­na­tion­ally tinged jazz com­po­si­tion and orches­tra­tion, make use of the best lessons from the likes of Pat Metheny as well as his own col­leagues. Kono places an empha­sis on melody, and is a real crafts­man, shift­ing his lovely lines through dif­fer­ent tex­tures and har­monies, com­bin­ing sec­tions that seem like bits of songs into larger forms and never los­ing track of where he has come from and where he is going."--The Big City Blog

BEST OF 2011

"The first time I listened to "Crossing" (Nineteen-Eight), the debut CD by multi-reed player Ben Kono, the music stopped me cold. Not only does Kono play a slew of instruments (oboe, english horn, flute, alto flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone and shakuhachi), his compositions and arrangements are strikingly good. Supported by the rhythm section of John Hollenbeck (drums) and John Hebert (bass) plus the fine keyboard work of Henry Hey and soaring electric guitar of Pete McCann (his acoustic work is also excellent), Kono creates an aural auto-biography that is as moving as it is musical. His wife, Heather Laws, adds vocals and french horn to several tracks. What a debut!"--Step Tempest

"An overpoweringly great record!"--Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times

"This potent sextet outing by composer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Kono unfolds like separate chapters of a novel, each revealing something about it's author. The opening "Castles and Daffodils," reflecting Kono's interest in modern conservatory music, finds him overdubbing a latticework pattern of oboe, English horn, flute and clarinet before drummer John Hollenbeck, bassist John Hébert, keyboardist Henry Hey and guitarist Pete McCann enter the fray. Heather Laws' ethereal wordless vocals add to the evocative nature of this stirring piece, which is dedicated to the composer's late father. On the 5/4 swinger "Common Ground," Kono switches to tenor sax and channels Michael Brecker, while "Rice" has him soaring on flute over Hollenbeck's insistent drum-'n'-bass groove. The dramatic "Paradise in Manzanar," a somber reflection on the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, is a through-composed suite. Featuring the leader on English horn, the work resolves on an energized note of hope."--Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times, April 2011

"Mr. Kono, a versatile woodwinds specialist — he’ll play tenor saxophone, clarinets, flutes and oboe here, along with English horn — has a gleaming new album, “Crossing” (Nineteen-Eight), that establishes his style as a bandleader-composer: cosmopolitan and unflappable, with a feel for rallying his sidemen."--Nate Chinen, The New York Times, Feb.17, 2011 

"Multi-instrumentalist Ben a consummate sideman, known for his contributions to some of the hipper New York big bands and his dazzling dexterity on a host of wind instruments, but on Crossing, his debut as a leader, he stands on his own merits as a composer and stylist. Joined by Henry Hey (keyboards), Pete McCann (guitars) and John Hollenbeck (drums), with Heather Laws (voice, French horn), the date boasts hard-hitting tracks with impressive blowing. Standouts include the epic “Paradise in Manzanar” featuring Kono’s compelling English horn, the funky “Rice” with its dense but never cluttered textures and the striking tenor solo on the title track, which grows from a small, three-note cell into a monolithic edifice."--Tom Greenland The New York City Jazz Record, March 2011

"I have not been able to resist playing the new CD by composer and multi-reed player Ben Kono since it first arrived last week...and, if you are a fan of music that transcends labels and genres, this program is hard to resist. The ensemble features drummer and conceptualist John Hollenbeck... bassist John Hébert, pianist Henry Hey and guitarist Pete McCann - the music they perform (all original pieces) is intriguing, tone poems that slip easily into the mind, sounds that challenge and soothe the listener. Over the course of the 9 pieces, Kono plays oboe, English horn, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone and shakuhachi; yet, the CD never feels like a technical tour-de-force..."--Richard Kamins, Step Tempest, Feb.12, 2011

"I was knocked out by Kono. Subtle, deep, challenging yet connecting with the listener."--Lynda Yohn, WEMU Radio, Detroit

"Never rushes the gates: Infinitely inspiring coffee-time stuff."--Eric Saeger, Tokafi, March 1, 2011

"Fluent in saxophone, flute, English horn, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet and shakuhachi (a sort of Japanese flute), Ben Kono hadn’t had trouble finding work in various jazz orchestras, including three of the best operating in New York these days: John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, Ed Palermo’s Big Band and Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. All that work (and fun) he’s had playing in these outfits has conspired to push back his recording debut, and at forty-three years old, it’s finally here. Crossing has all the hallmarks of a first record that was many years in the making. Kono’s pieces are thoroughly composed, featuring intricate meter shifts and harmonic sophistication that are more typical of a big band, not the sextet he employs here. His choice of sidemen also indicates a deliberate effort: Henry Hey on keys, Peter McCann on guitars, John Hebert on bass, Hollenbeck on drums and percussion and Kono’s wife providing a french horn and some wordless vocals. Kono’s composition moves from modern jazz (“Tennis”) to chamber jazz (“Shadowdance”) to contemporary, fusion-ish jazz (“Common Ground”, live video below) and even a Pat Metheny Group sounding tune (“Castles and Daffodils”). The wide-ranging epic title tune traverses over nearly all of these territories within one song. It took a while for my ears to adjust to the album as a whole; the Third Stream pieces can’t be appreciated the same way as the looser, more contemporary performances can. Nonetheless, Kono made an album that captures his rangy abilities as a composer, leader and multi-instrumentalist. Crossing is a 19/8 Records release out since February 22."--S.Victor Aaron, FROM THE STACKS,2011, VOL.3

"Double reeds have the potential to sound terribly out of place on a jazz record ... but on Crossing Ben Kono makes a good case for the English horn. As the record opens, it settles lightly between Pete McCann’s guitar and Henry Hey’s piano, sounding almost like a soprano sax. But when it goes into parallel with Heather Laws’ French horn the effect is something quite different. Kono is a formidable multi-instrumentalist, tackling clarinets, oboes, flutes, even the shakuhachi. But he admirably avoids shoehorning them into inappropriate contexts."--Zachary Young, Offbeat

"...Ben Kono, a hard-working sideman saxophonist from New York, started to put together the pieces of his song “Paradise in Manzanar” not long after the twin towers fell. But it relates to a different tragedy: the imprisonment of Japanese-American civilians during World War II. After reading Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar in the tenth grade, “paradise” is one of the last words I would use to describe the California internment camps. But there’s the old adage about life dealing you lemons…“Paradise in Manzanar” is one of the most striking tracks from Kono’s solo debut Crossing, which is saying something since the whole album boasts an elegant selection of songs of the chamber jazz and/or post-classical persuasion."--John Garratt, PopMatters

"...Ne esce così un album di sicuro fascino, dove l'abilità del leader nel suonare il sax tenore e il flauto, l'oboe o il shakuhachi apre grandi orizzonti timbrici e di atmosfera all'incisione. Che è pervasa dai delicati umori presenti nella musica del paese d'origine di Kono ma anche di squarci elettrici che vedono protagonisti chitarre distorte e Fender Rhodes...Intrigante!"--Vincenzo Roggero, All About Jazz Italia