Various Artists

Japan: The Spirit of Water

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World-class virtuosi on both traditional Japanese and non-traditional, non-Japanese instruments are assembled here to tap in to the soul of Japanese music. Largely fluid and ambient, these sonic streams are the very essence of a deep and translucent current or a moist and seeping beauty. Included is the Synergy percussion ensemble directed by Australia's Michael Askill and Ian Cleworth. Both are known for elevating folk sounds out of their context. Synergy contributes three tracks, including the delicate chimes of "Raintree" and the study in contrasting membranophone timbre that is "The Wave." Masayuki Koga presents a traditional pairing of koto (long, 13-string zither) and shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute that is serene as it is exotic). Similar, but much more lighthearted and song-like is the duet "Haru No Umi (Spring Sea)" by Tomoko Sunazaki. A solo piece on shakuhachi by James Ashley Franklin (composer and author of the six pages of liners notes) explores more of the instrument's possibility, from intricate melody lines to coarse breath articulations in considering "Daha (Pounding Wave)." He teams up with master koto player Satsuki Odamura to present the original pairing of instruments in a contemporary approach of extensive improvisation while keeping in mind the liquid theme and traditional melodic structure. This album is a moving collection of Japanese interpretations, varied but held constant by theme and presentation.

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