Monday, August 20, 2012

JAM DESHO: Kashiwa Daisuke - 88 (VBR-005)

(By Steve Jones.)

(JAM Desho is our feature that puts Asian music of the interesting and/or independent variety into the spotlight. I'm back from an unofficial week off, and we're on the home stretch of our Virgin Babylon Records feature with Kashiwa Daisuke's 88.)

It's not surprising that Kashiwa Daisuke should now find himself a member of Virgin Babylon Records. He and Katsuhiko Maeda are kindred musical spirits in respect to their willingness to play and experiment with genres and sounds. Daisuke's 36 minute composition "Stella" is one of the best pieces of music to have graced my ears this past decade. His 2009 LP 5 Dec. is infamous for its maximally maximalist sound, so it's understandable that he would want to pull back a bit on his next project. Sure enough, 88 sees Daisuke restricting his expression to one set of sounds: the 88 keys of a piano.

Outside of the more academic side of contemporary music, an album made of nothing but original solo piano pieces sans vocals is a rarity. The other artist who springs to mind would be Chilly Gonzales, whose Solo Piano and this year's Solo Piano II are the only other recent records of 88's ilk that I can think of. It's a shame, because I grew up with piano lessons, and the sound of a piano by itself, to me, can be just as engaging as a 4-piece band or a 40-piece orchestra.

88 became my go-to relaxation album last year. I say that not to imply that the record is boring, but rather that it is simultaneously full of drama and soothing to the ears. The great thing about telling a story with just one instrument is that the interpretation can be limited only by the listener's imagination. Put the record on and close your eyes. Each of the 11 pieces has a unique tone and projection, so, although the individual compositions work well by themselves, the hour-long album also functions to be engaging. Some of my favorites include his interpretation of "My Favorite Things," the beautiful and expressive "The Night of the Kentaurus Festival," and the Arvo Pärt-esque "Travel Around Stars"

Kashiwa Daisuke fans expecting to hear another Program Music I or 5 Dec. are going to be disappointed, but it would be incorrect to assume 88 to be a lesser album because of its intentionally lesser scope. The strength of the songwriting that made much of Daisuke's other music so wonderful to hear is still present in these tracks. If you're in the camp which doesn't much care for a solo piano effort, you at least owe it to yourself to listen to "Scorpion of Red Eyes," which is a condensed but still heart-tugging arrangement of "Stella." But if you're the kind of person who enjoys listening to CDs of Rubinstein playing Chopin or Gould playing Bach, then you should see what a modern composer can do with the same set of keys.

88 is streaming here until August 25 (although you may have noticed that the previous Virgin Babylon Records streams I posted are still available past their expiration date so shhhhhhhhhhhh).

(Steve Jones wa Kashiwa Daisuke ga daisuki desu. If you don't get that, you are a better person than he and you should laugh at him on his Twitter @vestenet.)

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