There are few instruments
that can truly be considered universally
appealing. The violin and piano seem
to be accepted everywhere. Perhaps the
acoustic guitar could be considered,
as it exists in so many forms. Then,
perhaps surprisingly, we find the marimba.
While the marimba originated as an African
instrument, it has been fully adopted
into the musical repertory in both Eastern
Asian and Western European musical traditions,
by way of South America. There must
be something in that deep, resonant
tone that humankind finds beautiful.
Indeed, even the Japanese have embraced
the instrument as essentially their
only pitched percussion instrument.
Though they have a long tradition of
percussion, they have traditionally
focused on bells, cymbals, rattles and
skinned drums. This disc shows, however,
just how they have embraced the marimba
through the 20th century,
and how they have merged it with their
Although her name may
be new to many listeners, Daniella Ganeva
has managed to gain some notoriety in
the percussion world. As she is a Bulgarian,
it may be surprising that she would
take on the challenge of exploring and
presenting this surprising development
in Japanese music. Then again, the names
Miki, Abe, Tanaka and Yuyama are probably
not familiar to many westerners either.
Though the music and performer each
originated on opposite sides of the
world, perhaps it should not be surprising
that such a virtuoso would seek out
music from a new tradition to find a
truly international voice. There are
pieces on this album that should appeal
to fans of a wide variety of musics
and musical traditions.
For instance, enthusiasts
for traditional Japanese music will
find much familiar about several of
these pieces. Instrumentally Marimba
Spiritual consists of four Japanese
percussionists playing traditional instruments
in traditional style - complete with
vocal shouts for emphasis - supporting
the plaintive melodies of the marimba.
Anyone who has ever heard a recording
by Kodo will know what to expect here.
Dream of the Cherry Blossoms
is a slow, ambient piece for solo marimba
that resembles, both in form and tonality,
works for the shamisen and shakuhachi.
There are other works
here that betray more of a Western influence.
Rain Tree is an atmospheric work
for two marimbas and one vibraphone,
and would not sound out of place in
an American minimalist concert. The
sonic language tries to describe the
experience of a tree holding the rain
water from a previous night’s rain-storm,
and the water dripping through the leaves
to the ground. Likewise Two movements
for Marimba seems to have been influenced
by French and Russian music from the
pre-World War I period, with a constantly
shifting time signature and a complete
rejection of dissonance or consonance
throughout. Though there are certainly
no Schoenbergian tone rows, there is
a definite disregard for the traditional
Japanese pentatonic scales as well.
Divertimento is the most Western
of these works, as it includes a saxophone
playing, against the marimba, lines
reminiscent of Stravinsky in his Firebird
or Rite of Spring eras. Here the marimba
plays in a conventionally Western tonality
and utilises jazz-influenced rhythms
that would not have been out of place
in French cabaret music from the 1930s
or 1940s. In fact, this work could easily
hide amongst the music of Raymond Scott
without seeming out of place.
Then there is Time
for Marimba, which takes its harmonic
language and rhythmic cues from gamelan.
The marimba is used by turns as a pure
percussion instrument and to create
ambient soundscapes. This particular
work straddles Japanese and Western
sounds to create something unique.
As for the performances,
Daniella Ganeva is a virtuoso on marimba,
and it shows. Technically, she shows
great command of the instrument, whether
she needs to use it to create ambient
sound-washes or simply as a drum. Emotionally,
she is able to play each piece with
The booklet gives information
about the inspiration and composition
of each piece. It also does a nice job
of providing a historical perspective
on these works, as they are all now
considered important in their realm.
It would have been a welcome addition
to have some few details included, such
as the year of composition for all of
the works. That said, the notes err
on the side of readability, and it is
difficult to find fault with that.
It is always a great
joy to find an album such as this. There
is little overly-familiar about music
when comes from a fusion of such disparate
styles. It would be mistaken to say
that this is only an album for the musically
adventurous, however. After all, Japanese
tonalities are very consonant. The music
is often relaxing, without ever sagging.
When it is not relaxing, it is energetic
and vibrant. In short, while this is
not an album that I would normally have
sought out, it is certainly one worth