Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Japan: Koto Classics

Hearing this album again brings back memories of almost a quarter century ago first coming into contact with the phenomenal music of Japan's classical period and, specifically, the highly expressive koto, which is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world.

In 1990, discovering this mesmerizing music for the first time was part of the realization that our "western" musics, varied and vast as they are, are just one part of an enormous global reservoir of music available to expanding understanding, perception and appreciation.

Of course, there has to be some acclimatizing to the different tunings, scales and sounds made in other forms of music.  For this listener, hearing the solo koto, shakuhachi, oud, sitarkora or any other number of instruments for other parts of the world, took less of a recalibration than hearing larger ensembles or vocalizations.

The koto, moreover, is a remarkable instrument in that it is both light in tone, but strong in resonance, powerful and heavy on one hand and light and melodic on the other.  It seems to embrace a broad spectrum of sound and perhaps makes it easier to absorb what is heard.

Recorded in 1966 and released as part of the extraordinary Nonesuch Explorer series, the album features the virtuosic playing and emotive singing of Shinichi Yuize, who is still living and is approaching his 93rd birthday.  Yuize has toured around the world and performed with such major figures of Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar and he served as something of a music ambassador for Japan.  When the album was made, Yuize was an artist-in-residence at Columbia University.

The remastering by the great Robert Ludwig, who deserves far more credit for all the amazing work he has done in all musical genres over the decade, further pulls the listener in to the very intimate soundworld created by Yuize's stunning playing and singing.

Koto Classics still has the same impact as twenty-six years ago, which really means that it is a timeless recording.  It will, undoubtedly, feel the same years from now.

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