Sato Michihiro is a performer on the tsugaru shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument somewhat similar to the koto with a lengthy traditional history. Michihiro, however, sought to bring his instrument into the world of late 20th century free improvisation and hooked up with John Zorn to create the album Ganryu Island. A couple of years later, Zorn arranged for Michihiro to record this series of largely improvised duos, trios, and quartets with various members of the downtown New York City avant-garde. The results are decidedly mixed, and the fault seems to lie with both Michihiro's lack of comfort with this sort of free dialogue and the American musicians' tendency not to listen to the shamisen, instead going their merry way playing as they normally would. There are exceptions, notably the trios with Nicolas Collins and Christian Marclay, some of the tracks with guitarist Fred Frith, and the written piece with Toh Ban Djan (Ikue Mori and Luli Shioi). But, by and large, the pieces fall into either routine mimicry or, conversely, sound as though recorded in different rooms. If one isolates Michihiro's playing, it's often in and of itself very attractive. Similarly, some of his partners' contributions, like the short-lived band Semantics, are enjoyable. But rarely do the conceptual twain meet. In sum, an idea that looked better on paper than was achieved in reality.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick
feat: Bill Frisell