Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Min'yo Folk song from Japan. Takahashi Yujiro and friends.  Nimbus NI 5618 [73' 33"]
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This is a valuable introduction to Japanese folk music, but not for the faint-hearted! The stumbling block for ears attuned to trained Western voice production is the apparent harshness of the oriental singing voice, but one can quickly become accustomed to this and afterwards begin to concentrate on the very subtle inflections and intricate ornamentation. Min'yo fans scorn Western folk song for being so plain.

No such problems with the instruments; the three-stringed banjo-like shamisen has a robust quality and the virtuosity of expert performers is easy to enjoy, there are end-blown shakuhachi and horizontal shinobuei flutes, and a various percussion instruments. All five Japanese musicians sing and play several instruments. They now work professionally, trying to retain and develop the interest of young Japanese in native folk music. For this recording they were joined by David Hughes of SOAS, University of London, who also supplied the erudite notes.

As with most of Nimbus's forays into unusual ethnic music, the documentation is thorough and, in this case, a joy. We are given accounts of the music and its provenance, descriptions of all the instruments, notes about voice colour, metre and scales. There are biographies of the members of the group, who made this CD whilst touring the British Isles in 1998. And particularly welcome are the full texts with transliterations and translations of the original Japanese, easy to follow and often engagingly idiosyncratic, some romantic, others like Japanese 'rap', combining spoken lyrics with lively dance music. The compilation manages to hold the interest with carefully managed changes of mood and musical line-up. There is singing in most tracks, but also two pieces for shamisen, a spectacular solo improvisation and a flashy, competitive trio for three shamisens. I can't guarantee that everyone will enjoy it all, but I did.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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