This is part of a series
of discs by shakuhachi player Riley
Lee. Continued thanks are due to Tall
Poppies for this attractive live recording.
Please see my review of ‘Empty
Sky’ for weblinks to the instrument
and the performer.
Of all music, this
is surely the most suited to live performance,
where some sort of collective meditation
can be detected. Of course a reverberant
church acoustic suits the haunting sound
of the shakuhachi. As the booklet notes
point out, any extraneous sounds become
part of the experience, sensations to
be observe with an inner eye.
All the works on the
present CD are traditional, dating (perhaps)
from around the fourteenth century,
and transmitted from teacher to pupil
over the years.
Lee understands the
vital part of the breath in this music,
how the inhalation determines and colours
the succeeding phrase. All works are
in free rhythm, a fact that gives them
their timeless feel.
The first piece, Sakkan
(‘Breath-Sight’) is fascinating firstly
because it is performed on a very long
(and therefore lower and timbrally deeper)
instrument, over 90 cm long. Lee’s sense
of timing is magnificent - everything
just falls beautifully and inevitably
into place. The difference between the
various instruments can be immediately
heard by comparing this to the succeeding
work, San An (‘safe Delivery’), a prayer
from the Echigo district of Northern
Japan for safe delivery during childbirth.
This instrument is about a third shorter
than the first, yet still projects the
prayer-like basis of the conception.
Nesasaha Shirabe (‘Original
Tuning of the Nesasa Sect’ is actually
a warm-up piece, acting as a ‘renewal
of the relationship between the bamboo
and the performer’. As is often the
case with works from this region, a
technique known as ‘komibuki’ is used,
a sort of pulsating breath. It is a
lovely effect. The music itself (of
course) meanders ... but how!
The same pulsating
technique recurs in Nesasaha Tôri
(from the same area), traditionally
played by komusô (priests) while
begging for alms while on pilgrimage.
Lee’s control is astonishing (try the
diminuendo around 3’40).
Lee has a chance to
dwell on the lower parts of the shakuhachi’s
register in Ajikan (‘Seeing the
letter Ah’) - and how loud he can play
The austerity of Shingetsu
paves the way to the shorter but memorable
Nesasaha Sagri Ha (‘Falling Leaf’).
Reflecting the slow falling of a leaf,
some of the melodic figures so indeed
seem to aurally trace the downward movement
for the Bell’) contains a passage that
is effectively a ripple on an otherwise
still pond (around 5’50-6’00). As the
longest item on the disc (17’22), it
is the best track for fully entering
into the meditative state that belongs
with this music. Finally, a slow prayer
(Tamuke, or ‘Prayer for Safe
Passage’) is a delicate and melancholy
was to end.
Very, very beautiful