This CD presents us with another vision by the master of the
Tsugaru-Shamisen. Agatsuma was a child
prodigy on the Tsugaru-Shamisen, a three stringed fretless banjo-like
instrument. The Shamisen is an
instrument that originated in China. Tsugaru refers to the area in the northern
tip of mainland Japan. The Japanese developed their own style of
playing this instrument and the Shamisen from this area of Japan are noted
for their powerful style of sound and playing, which is why it is specifically
referred to by its place of origin.
While its history is one of use in classical Japanese music,
the recent revival of this instrument and Agatsuma’s incorporation of this
traditional instrument into modern music is one of the most successful
integrations of this kind. The flavor of
the music is most definitely Japanese folk, but the beats are clearly
This CD highlights the use of the Tsugaru-Shamisen in a
variety of styles of music. Recorded on
his first national tour, these original compositions highlight the ability of
this instrument to be incorporated into modern music. They also establish Agatsuma as the master of
the instrument not only in his ability to play it to a variety of styles of
music but also composing music that allows the blending to be seamless as well
as pleasing to the ear.
The opening track of "Beams" is an upbeat fusion
of electronica and the Tsugaru-Shamisen.
Almost William Orbit in style, it features driving rhythms in the
background which emphasizes the Tsugaru-Shamisen as well as Agatsuma’s ability
to play the instrument in harmony with the style of music.
"In Memory of NY" gives us an “on the streets”
flavor, somewhat jazz, somewhat pop, and most definitely Japanese. This composition
is well constructed and
features hot jazz and cool sound of the Tsugaru-Shamisen.
"Solitude" has a “new age” feel to it, like a
gentle breeze through the cherry blossoms.
This piece features piano and Tsugaru-Shamisen, and highlights Agatsum’s
mastery of the instrument.
"Accustom" is a very short piece, highlighting
Japanese drumming with the Tsugaru-Shamisen, and adding light elements of
electronica to fill in the background, very successfully softening the rough
edges but being very effective.
"Fun" is exactly that. We experience Japanese folk music, with a
Latin jazz beat, funky piano, and it is a very surprising upbeat piece. Again we are presented with another style of
music where the Tsugaru-Shamisen feels right at home.
St." challenges the ear with a very blues
beat that can be found in a very Japanese sound. And it works!
Blending the Tsugaru-Shamisen with only a drum leaves you snapping your
fingers as you recognize the beat and delight in the blending.
We return to the ambient/new age feeling with a short piece
called "In the Rain" which again features the Tsugaru-Shamisen
blended with drums and electronica as we experience the force of a storm and
gentleness of a Japanese inspired rain. And in the track "Groovin" we again have a jazz
piece with piano, drums and instead of guitar we have the
Tsugaru-Shaminsen. Again, another great
composition that is upbeat and brings your feet to the dance floor. "Curfew" is a very traditional piece, overlaid on
an orchestrated background. While most
of the CD focuses on East meets West, this piece is more of a very Japanese
composition. This is a very dramatic
piece that gives us the roots of instrument in a very impressive composition.
The final track is called "Blown Away" and the
energy level is kicked up to give this CD a rocking finish. Elements of Rock, jazz and the ever present
Japanese folk music are blended flawlessly to leave you wanting to hear the CD
After listening to this CD, you can understand how Agatsuma
‘s first CD in 2001 received the “Album of the Year” award at the Japan Gold
Disc Awards. This is a wonderful
addition to your music library and if you have not heard Agatsuma before, this
can be a great introduction to this style of music.
by Margaret Foster