Shinichi Yuize ‘Koto Classics Japan’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

Originally recorded in 1966 by traditional music specialist Yuize, this CD showcases the rootsy stringed instrument that is the Koto. In fact the koto is an approximately six foot, thirteen-stringed instrument and one that has to be played with three ivory picks that are placed on various fingers of the right hand. There is debate over whether the instrument arrived in Japan from China during the fifth century. What is beyond dispute, however, is the sheer beauty and meditational sound of the koto. Shinachi Yuize is a world-renowned practitioner of the instrument and one who has recorded with other classical musicans from throughout the world, notably Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin. Among the five extended pieces, three are instrumental solo compositions while the remaining two are koto plus vocals and it is the former that impress most of all. The opener ‘Zangetsu’ typfies the haunting koto sound in all its glory while the lengthy ‘Midare’ incorporates several sections and explores a wider musical canvass. One minor gripe is the cover photography which is a little dull in black and white and lacking in clarity. Given the wonderful cover on the original vinyl, it seems strange this was not reproduced in full. Otherwise this is an excellent release that, because of the spiritual nature of the recording, will appeal to an audience beyond those interested exclusively in the Far East, and in particular jazz fans will find much to appreciate in the virtuosity of the playing contained within. Extended inner sleeve notes significantly enhance the listener’s understanding.

Tim Stenhouse