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Daniella Ganvera: Time For Marimba
Minoru MIKI (b. 1930) Marimba Spiritual (1983-4) [14:43]
Keiko ABE (b. 1937) Dream of the Cherry Blossoms [5:31]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996) Rain Tree [14:30]
Minoru MIKI (b. 1930) Time For Marimba (1968) [9:57]
Akira YUYAMA (b. 1932) Divertimento [14:46]
Toshimitsu TANAKA (b. 1927) Two movements for Marimba (1965) [10:09]
Daniella Ganeva, mallet percussion
Gary Kettel, Graham Instrall, Graham Cole, and Gillian McDonagh, additional percussion
Simon Haram, alto saxophone
Recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London. DDD

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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 traditional sounds.

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 deep sensitivity.

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 finding.

Patrick Gary

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