Tomoyoshi Date: Otaha
Own Records

Own Records would appear to be muscling in, so to speak, on Schole Records' territory with its latest release, a forty-six-minute suite of field recordings-enhanced piano settings by Tokyo-based Tomoyoshi Date, who issued a well-received debut album, Hau, in 2007 and partners with Chihei Hatakeyama in Opitope. There's a delicacy and lightness of touch about Otaha that invites comparison to the work of someone like Akira Kosemura, for example, and Otaha (which means “the sound of leaves”) appears designed to more soothe than unsettle—not something altogether surprising, given that Otaha is named after his infant daughter and even was composed between the time when Date learned of her impending birth and the day before she arrived. The album's six settings are powerfully evocative, with even their titles—“Emergence of the Forest” and “The Sound of the Moon” representative of the titles' style—strengthening that dimension of the music.

“A Street Corner of Oia” quite literally sounds as if Date is playing his piano next to an open window on a busy city street, with street-level field recordings of voices and myriad other natural sounds an accompaniment to his gentle piano ruminations. There's an unhurried quality to the music that reinforces its becalmed character, yet there's also a wealth of sound design in play, as Date builds around the piano a shimmering mass of bright flickering sounds, reminiscent of sunlight reflecting off of a pond's surface. Bell tinklings and burbling nature sounds lend “A Spring on the Hill” a rather New Age-like character, though Date distances the material from that association by introducing subtle snatches of conversational murmurings and, as he does throughout, directing the listener's attention to the introspective piano playing. “Floating Light on the Waves” begins much the same as the others but contrast arrives in the form of cello playing, with John Friesen deftly weaving the instrument's soft, erhu-like voice into the music's fabric so that it doesn't overpower the other elements. The final piece, “The Sound of the Moon,” is perhaps the most delicate and introspective and all the more appealing for being so. One is drawn into the music's shadowy sound-world, one filled with the mystery of night-time and the promise of playful exploration that a summer's evening encourages.

Generally speaking, the album's six pieces can be heard as variations on a theme, with each sharing a similarly fragile character in the piano playing and a stimulating richness in the mercurial sound design that accompanies it. Date also sprinkles his electroacoustic pieces with slivers of digital processing sounds as a way of extending their sonic breadth but without sacrificing their understated essence. While Otaha doesn't blaze new genre trails, its refined set of piano-based meditations nevertheless meets the goal Date presumably set for himself.

January 2012