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Maki ISHII (1936-2003)
Live
Saidoki (Demon), op.86 (Floating Wind - part III) (1989-1992) [13:45]
Concertante, for marimba and six percussionists, op.79 (1988) [20:18]
Percussion Concerto 'South - Fire - Summer', op.95 (1992) [18:04]
Ryan Scott (solo percussion); Bill Brennan, Mark Duggan, Paul Houle, Blair Mackay, Andrew Morris, Trevor Tureski (percussion); Esprit Orchestra/Alex Pauk
rec. Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, 1 May 2009; 24 March 2000 [Concertante]; 11 May 2008 [South-Fire-Summer]. DDD
INNOVA 809 [51:57]

Experience Classicsonline

This CD is so modern it even has its own website. An offshoot of the very trendy American Composers Forum, Innova is a label "dedicated to forward-looking (-hearing?) work that pushes and challenges the boundaries of contemporary music", and their output is filed under Jazz, New Classical, Experimental, World and Electronics. Quite possibly the only label whose director is a self-styled "guerilla sound sculptor", its own five internet radio streams include one dedicated entirely to minimalism, another to microtonal music and a third, called Saxophonics, "a dream come true for every kind of sax lover."

Given such unusually high levels of cool, it is hardly surprising that the cover of this new release of percussion concerto music by renowned Japanese composer Maki Ishii is more than suggestive of a jazz CD. "Maki Ishii Live" beckons almost in neon lights, with Ryan Scott (a jazz artist's name, if ever there was one!) on drums - and a lot more percussion besides - whilst the poor old Esprit Orchestra, with all its Old Classical instruments is relegated to a small font in a scarcely legible design along with their conductor Alex Pauk. And Ishii's tell-tale opus numbers are tucked away inside the booklet.

As it turns out, 'live' does not refer to Ishii, who sadly died in 2003, but to these three recordings for the Canadian state broadcaster, CBC Radio 2. Live recordings are no rarity on a classical disc, but 'Ralph Vaughan Williams Live' would go down like a lead balloon in certain circles. The truth of the matter is, though, that there is no jazz here, only art music that is not post-modernist, but boldly modernist - Maki Ishii clearly influenced by his avant-gardist teacher Boris Blacher in Berlin in the late 1950s.

Yet the real content of this CD is nothing to be coy about. This is indeed a quality product, difficult to fault, beyond the less than generous running time. Splendid performances all round, with Ryan Scott in quite amazing form, especially in Saidoki, where he seems to be playing every percussion instrument known to humankind, and several that are not, often at the same time. CBC Radio's sound is excellent, truly atmospheric, its quality not even damaged by an occasional inopportune cough. The only technical blemish comes right at the end of the last track, when the final second of natural reverberation is faded down a fraction of a second too quickly, presumably to allow the applause to be cleanly cut. The CD booklet is impressively informative and neat - it can be read in advance for free here.

As for the music, well, from the opening bars of Saidoki it is obvious Ishii means business: turbulent, compelling, insistent, startling, exospheric. Saidoki is a seriously eerie masterpiece, an epic from the fifth dimension that fulfils Ishii's stated intention of "seeking to create a new sound universe" with ease and panache. Concertante seems for a while to be milder fare, opening quietly with gentle ripples mainly by the marimba, but eventually Scott's virtuosity, often matched by the six ensemble percussionists, builds momentum until the work ends in a kind of demented-jazz frenzy. It is not until the Percussion Concerto that the Esprit Orchestra come briefly into their own, yet here for once, noisy outbursts notwithstanding, there is a greater emphasis on quiet - although that is all thrown out the window as Ishii pursues "the idea of acoustic accumulation" in the work's incredible Armageddon-like culmination, handled by all soloists with consummate savvy and passion.

In sum, a superb disc in virtually every respect, marked down a point or two only by its deficiency of minutes.

Byzantion
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