Montag, 6. Dezember 2010

Ned Rothenberg - Ryu Nashi/No School-New Music For Shakuhachi

Ned Rothenberg released two great albums on Tzadik Records in 2010. One being "Quintet for Clarinet and Strings" with the Mivos Quartet and himself playing clarinet. The other being "Ryu Nashi/No School-New Music For Shakuhachi".
"Ryu Nashi" is a concept album focussing on the traditions of the shakuhachi (a traditional Japanese bamboo flute) and some of Rothenberg’s own, unique views and techniques, making this record more than a traditional Japanese piece of music.

The album features five players. Riley Lee, Ralph Samuelson and Ned Rothenberg play a variety of shakuhachis, Stephanie Griffin plays viola and Yoko Hiraoka sings and plays Jiuta Shamisen. Ned Rothenberg plays two shakuhachi soli (track 1 "Emergent Vessel" and track 4 "Shadow Detail"). The other tracks are duets, fathoming the possibilities of the shakuhachi in combination with the viola, the shamisen and in a shakuhachi duet.

The recurring theme holding this record together conceptually and acoustically is obviously the shakuhachi. Its tonal expression is dominated by long, slowly changing tones. Hearing the three players on this album I can’t help myself but feel they are somehow more aware of what they play, than many other musicians. Here is no place to hide behind shredding a fretboard like a maniac. No filters, samples or overdubs to make your sound thicker and more polished. This music is pure, handcrafted and honest. 

Overall the album is slow but nevertheless there’s a great sense of dynamic going on. Rothenberg uses space very knowingly and let’s the music breathe and float through the room. Players circle around each other more in a fashion of meditating together, than having a jazz like dialog. Then one instrument steps back, with the other instrument soloing more playful than before.

Regarding this careful pacing, "Dan No Tabi (Journey on a Staircase)" is the most dynamic song presented here. Fitting the title there are quite a few up and downs and the violin sometimes strives to dominate the song, tempting the shakuhachi to play some quicker and higher notes. The shakuhachi succeeds, increasing it’s range but never sounding frantic or hectic.

Rhytmically "Naki Tokoro Nite (Where there is neither)" is the most interesting song. Showing the experimental interests and of Ned Rothenberg, it doesn’t utilize the 2/4 meter of most traditional Japanese music. Instead Rothenberg uses the meter of the tanka poem(5-7-5-7-7), opening and closing the piece for most of the songs rhythmical structure. 
Both "Naki Tokoro Nite" and "Dan No Tabi" use some traditional western elements, such as counterpoint composition. As traditional this record seems on the surface, it’s nevertheless an avant-garde perspective on an 1200 years old instrument.

Rothenberg is really lucky to have these highly talented players on this record. Knowing that, he uses their contributions to create a highly fascinating record with a lot of fine nuances. Despite the variety of Rothenberg’s compositional approach "Ryu Nashi" clearly shows his love and respect for the instrument.
If you’re even loosely interested in the shakuhachi or Japanese traditional music this record is highly recommened.

Cd time: 55:04
Riley Lee: Shakuhachi
Ned Rothenberg: Shakuhachi
Stephanie Griffin: Viola
Yoko Hiraoka: Jiuta Shamisen, Voice
Ralph Samuelson: Shakuhachi 

Standout tracks:

Ned Rothenberg:

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