Three heavy weights in Japanese music join forces on the CD On the Way [Michi Yuki] (2007). Virtuoso taiko drummer Kenny Endo, master percussionist Joji Hirota and shakuhachi player John Kaizan Neptune collaborate under the artistic name of JJK. The result is an enchanting collection of acoustic pieces. At times, shakuhachi melodic phrases appear accompanied by intricate rhythmic patterns. Other pieces only feature percussion exercises, with the participation of various types of drums and percussion. The composition "Heavenly Bells" has a Buddhist meditative sensibility, with the inclusion of gongs, bells and shakuhachi. Get the CD from www.worldspirit.org.uk.
On Kaidan Suite (2007) the Kitsune Ensemble’s introspective cinematic sound draws its inspiration from hyakumonogarati kaidankai, Japanese ghost stories told under diminishing candlelight. "As each story concluded, a candle would be extinguished,’ says percussionist Billy Fox. "As the light faded, participants would be cloaked in mounting darkness…and confronted with creeping dread. Legend held that upon the extinction of the final flame, a ghost would appear."
Kaidan Suite is not Japanese folk music, but rather a combination of modal jazz and chamber-style classical music with traditional Japanese modal systems. "While drawing from traditional Japanese tonal systems such as koto tunings hirajoshi and nogijoshi, and elements such as Gagaku court music, shakuhachi flute stylings, and musical accompaniment to Noh theater, the Kaidan Suite primarily borrows from the languages of modal jazz improvisation and 20th century classical music to capture the emotional pacing of hyakumonogarati kaidankai," adds Billy Fox. To purchase the CD or download the music, go to www.kitsuneensemble.org.
For a taste of traditional Japanese music, try the two volumes of reflective koto music by the virtuoso musicians who form the Yamato Ensemble. Japanese Music by Michio Miyagi Volume One and Volume Two contain pieces composed by one of the greatest koto masters of the 20th century, Michio Miyagi (1894-1956). Miyagi went blind at the age of eight and he devoted his life to music. He invented the seventeen-string koto to expand downwards the compass of the thirteen-string koto. His style combined influences from 19th and 20th century Japan.
The Yamato Ensemble uses koto, shamisen, shakuhachi and vocals.