Agatsuma / Hiromitsu Agatsuma

Beyond

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Agatsuma's second album largely duplicates what he did on his first -- he plays his shamisen like ringing a bell over programmed backing tracks. The difference is that, this time around, there's more care and thought in at least some of those programmed tracks. So while something like "Dawnlight" can come across as bland in the very worst new age sense, a track like "Baetnorae/Tsugaru Yosare Bushi" works well, integrating the drum and shamisen in unison and answering phrases. Agatsuma's playing and technique have sharpened, too, and he pulls of complex runs with ridiculous ease, able to shift in feel from funky to meditative with great ease. His work more than compensates when the backing tracks become nonentities (as on "In the Sky" and the decidedly ungroovy "Shami's Groove"). But he needs more of a challenge -- and probably human interaction -- than is presented here. When it does all come together, as on "Heartbeat," it's sublime; however, too often it falls flat -- "Panther" is a prime example, about as unfunky as it's possible to get. Please, someone, pair this man with real musicians who'll challenge him, and then let the sparks fly.

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