Akira Kosemura: Manon

Akira Kosemura's Schole label is, among other things, remarkably consistent—I can't think of a single sub-par release it's issued, and Kosemura himself has contributed a number of stellar recordings to its total output. His latest release represents a bit of a departure in a number of respects. It's an eighty-minute, double-CD release, for one, and secondly, it's a two-act soundtrack for the dance theater production Manon, which was choreographed by Kimiho Hulbert and is based on the 18th-century French literary work Manon Lescaut. How it differs most of all from Kosemura's previous output, however, is in its stylistic diversity and in its arrangements. Whereas his previous album How My Heart Sings was solo piano-based, Manon includes piano pieces but also a vocal setting, electronic pieces, sound programming treatments, and small-group settings. What enables Manon to sidestep disunity is both the overall dance dimension and key melodic motifs, such as the tender ones gracing “Love Theme” and “Manon Theme,” that establish connecting threads between the nineteen pieces.

That diversity is fully on display in the opening three songs, specifically when the melancholy electronic meditation “Prologue” (featuring a stirring vocal by Shaylee) gives way to the spirited waltz “Amiens,” whose French flavour is boosted by the accordion playing of Rie Yoshihara and the sweetly singing violin of Mika Shirasawa. We move in turn from that Amelie-like moment to “Innocent Children,” whose marimba, acoustic guitar, and hand percussion transplant us to the center of a South American dance festival. Subsequent tracks explore beat-based electronica and post-rock (the ominous “Invasion of the Dark” and jazzy “Lies and Betrayal”), Philip Glass-like chamber pieces (“Promise” and “The Lines in Between,” which pair Kosemura's piano with Shirasawa's violin and Haruka Hitomi's cello), Raster-Noton-styled electronic experimentation (“Silence to Capture,” “Walls of Uncertainty,” “Nightmare”), and acoustic jazz (the samba-styled “Playground of Justice,” which gives the lead to flutist Shin Araki). Perhaps the recording's most affecting piece is the penultimate one, “Manon Theme,” on account of its rapturous strings and Kosemura's moving piano playing.

This being an Akira Kosemura release means that elegant solo piano settings naturally figure, such as “Depth of Sorrow” and “First Love (Light Dance),” the former mournful in tone and the latter more light-hearted. The emotional contrasts reflect the love story itself, which finds the naive and innocent Manon eventually suffering a tragic death. As a soundtrack for a dance theater production, it's likewise understandable that Manon would be heavily rhythm-based. But it's also, as Kosemura's music typically is, rich in melody, such that the sing-song melodies that elevate pieces like “Amiens,” “Innocent Children,” and the strings-only closer “Vision of a Dream” make listening to the recording such a rewarding experience.

July-August 2012