Akira Kosemura: Momentary: Memories of the Beginning

Momentary: Memories of the Beginning offers a superb introduction to anyone unfamiliar with Akira Kosemura's work. A generally more song-styled affair than some of the other releases by the Japanese pianist, composer, and Schole label-head, the fifteen-track collection spotlights multiple sides of its creator, from classical chamber miniatures to uplifting vocal songs. There's something of a narrative in play, one rooted in a fateful encounter between a man and woman and the way in which that moment lends itself to musical representation, but no diminishment in listening pleasure comes from concentrating on the music in its immediate form and downplaying the story.

Kosemura has structured the album as a song cycle of sorts and to bolster its impact enhanced the CD with a DVD containing video treatments of five pieces. At the album's start, his elegant piano minimalism suits the wistful evocation “Starry Night” splendidly, after which instrumentals and vocal pieces intermingle. The former ranges between solo piano vignettes (“Momentary,” “Prelude,” “Farewell”) to ravishing piano-and-strings set-pieces (“Precious,” “Imagery”); a samba-jazz feel even emerges during “Blue,” a breezy instrumental with the leader's piano accompanied by acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and drums.

Kosemura's songs are unapologetically pretty and melodious, and the recording features no small amount of harmonious swoon. In a typical song, a singer such as lasah, nikiie, or Shaylee coos (in Japanese or English) against a sumptuous backdrop of piano, strings, and percussion; for this project, the composer even brings Devendra Banhart aboard for a gentle vocal turn on the soothing, metronomically driven “Someday.” In some pieces, programmed beats give the material additional heft (“Awakening”), whereas other songs emphasize a gentler character.

Never before has Kosemura's music embraced pop song form so openly (see “South Wind”), but the music nonetheless retains its graceful sophistication despite such flirtations; it would be a cold heart indeed that could prove resistant to a rapturous marvel like “Niji No Kanata” or the heartfelt vocal ballad “Promise with You.” Whatever the differences between one song and another, his chiming piano patterns and melodic sensibility are the common threads holding the project together.

August 2016