Katôh Hidekazu

Masters of the Shakuhachi

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This album pairs a Japanese master of the shakuhachi (Katôh Hidekazu) with a largely self-taught Western flute player who has taken to the instrument in past decades (Richard Stagg). The duo plow through a total of five pieces of program music for shakuhachis, occasionally adding in work on the nishaku-issun or yonsun. With the exception of the classic "Shika No Tone," which is performed exquisitely by the pair, the album is loaded with compositions from the 1970s. The compositions are interesting looks at what the timeless instrument can do with more modern musical ideas and mixes of Western musical aspects. That said, the newer music rarely has the same beauty to it that the traditional works generally do. Jazz exploration and Western classical motifs make for new directions, but seem somewhat inappropriate for the shakuhachi at times. Similar to the composition choice, technique choices are also somewhat hit and miss. The use of two shakuhachis in tandem leads to work with parallel lines and counterpoint, which is always performed well, but sometimes comes off vaguely in the realm of an Eric Dolphy piece, sometimes in a traditional Japanese style, and sometimes somewhere in between. The outcome of the album on the whole follows from these tendencies -- sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes it's off a bit. To each his own on this one.

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