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04/25/2016
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KAORU WATANABE - Neo

Credit: Mark Tucker/Veritas Vampirus

I was intrigued to run across Kaoru Watanabe and his marvelous shinobue, nohkan, and ryuteki playing, as well as ministrations by him and sessioneers upon assorted percussives. Though Neo commences in World-Jazz/trad-fusion, Watanabe blending James Newton, Charles Lloyd, and others, I’ve even better news for connoissieurs of exotica such as The New Amsterdam Percussion Ensemble, Morris Pert, bugaku and gagaku modalities, noh, Toshio Hosokawa, Suntreader, Toshiro Mayuzumi, and so on: the bulk of Neo, which clocks in at over an hour, is grounded in esteemed ancient modes with modern inflections. And if you're a fan of the imperishable Zatoichi movies and TV series, you'll likewise find much here of interest (progdogs will recall Isao Tomita scored a good deal of Ichi's music, blending the old and new).

While deeply entrenched in the work of forebears, Watanabe takes on aspects of the brilliant Kohachiro Miyata, a shakuhachi performer of renown, whose heights became supernatural, zen lived in musical notation. Too, the glory days of Hubert Laws come through in "Kagura Gurui" and elsewhere, sounding like the work we heard with Chick Corea on Sundance and shards of Laws’ own catalogue, especially the CTI years. "Together Alone" contains radiant koto playing (Sumie Kaneko) at times suggesting various early and later works by Stomu Yamash'ta with elements of John Cage, Bill Bruford (the King Crimson days with box drums), and other outside player-composers. A dramatic song of varying passions and intensities, “Together Alone” could rightly be cited as the heart of the CD.

Watanabe's an aficionado of Carnatic musics as well, so don't be surprised if the beats, rhythms, and inflections throughout the resplendent work prompt comparisons in what’s evoked via mrdingam and various Indian instrumentations. "Iki" features the familiar vocal count-outs native to a good deal of the Carnatic ouevre but with notable differences interpolating rondo, clashing narrative, and distant echoes of Glass' Einstein on the Beach. Wandering in from over the border, way over the border, Latinate modes find a mutant home on the disc, reaching back to Hermeto Pascoal, Airto Moreira, and similar innovators, this time dressed in wufuku. All Neo’s percussionists (Sayun Chang, Barbara Merjan, and Fumi Tanakadate flank Kaoru) are expert, encompassing, indispensible to the experience, of far greater immediacy than is the case in most other world musics. If you're looking for a radical change of pace from norms and wish to be absorbed by authenticity companioned by stratospherically nuanced subtle modernity, I doubt you'll find anything quite like this currently in the market.