Akisai: Images

No word better describes the material on this excellent CD-and-DVD release from Akisai than resplendent. The follow-up to 2014's Colors release, Images could be categorized as smooth electronica (if there were such a genre) in the way it presents something of an analogue to smooth jazz, the difference being that jazz-styled soloing is downplayed in Akisai's compositions and sultry electro-acoustic soundsculpting emphasized in its place. Both sides of the Tokyo-based audio-visual outfit's identity are accounted for on the release, with the DVD's visuals created by Koichi Nakaie and the music on both discs produced by classically trained multi-instrumentalist Yo Suzuki (guitar, piano, synthesizers, trumpet, flute, etc.). Whereas his talents were primarily showcased on Colors, the work of both group members is featured on Images.

On the CD component, the sunlit quality of Akisai's harmonious sound is in full flower from the moment “Cycle” appears until “Utopia” closes the forty-one-minute disc eight songs later. Throughout the recording, bright melodies sung by acoustic guitars and keyboards occupy the front-line, while programmed beats and ambient textures flesh out the group's glittering soundworld. On “Bless,” Akisai edges into jazz-rock territory when the music swings with serious intent and grows heavier when electric guitar is featured in the arrangement. Evoking some kind of imaginary tropical paradise in its smooth jazz arrangement, “Sicilienne” weaves flute, piano, and trumpet playing into a sparkling wonderland illuminated by electronics. “Sailors,” on the other hand, opts for nostalgic reflection in conjuring the image of an early morning seaside locale sprinkled with field-recorded seagulls. Of the nine tracks, “Talk” might be the most immediately appealing in the way it elevates its breezy swing with catchy melodies and for the way its exotic warmth proves so soothing.

Perpetuating the spirit of Colors, the dominant mood on Images is joy, and Suzuki again impresses in so convincingly simulating the playing of a full ensemble; it's lovely stuff, regardless of the label one affixes to it. In contrast to the CD's song-length pieces, the DVD features a single, thirty-one-minute piece, “Re:qualia,” that accompanies a rapid, ever-mutating visual display composed by Nakaie with a non-stop musical soundtrack assembled from the second album's “Bless” and “Mistygray” and the debut's “Theory.” In this multi-sensory presentation, one is simultaneously dazzled by layered displays of flowery details and painterly effects while at the same time enraptured by Akisai's music. The two dimensions work hand-in-hand, with disruptions in the visual display occurring in tandem with electronic glitches in the music, resulting in a captivating audio-visual work that gives new meaning to the word kaleidoscopic.

November 2015