Haruka Nakamura: Twilight

Every release from the Kitchen. label is special and Haruka Nakamura's Twilight is no different in that regard. One might expect that, being a composer and pianist, his music might have its strongest assocation with Akira Kosemura's, given that the two issued the split release Afterglow on Schole in 2007 (Nakamura subsequently released the album Grace on Schole a year later). In actual fact, the explorative style of Nakamura's Twilight hints that there's an even stronger bond to the music of ECM artist Keith Jarrett, and Nakamura's understated piano playing lends his music an elegance that suggests that kinship isn't misplaced. In fact, the music on Twilight at times resembles an acoustic jazz style sometimes heard on ECM recordings, especially when Isao Saito brings such a painterly aproach to his percussive playing (on many songs, his contributions amount to subtle dabs or bright splashes of cymbal colour rather than traditional drum accompaniment). It's interesting that Jarrett's The Melody at Night, With You is cited by Kitchen. as a point of reference, as Twilight often exudes a wistful melancholy that's similarly conveyed by the ECM release. Song titles alone—“Memoria” and “Faraway,” for instance—also suggest a similar mood. However, Twilight's theme isn't about death and the darkness that follows twilight (one thinks of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs as a classical exemplar) but rather the idea that sunset brings with it the promise of a new day and all the hope that that comes with it.

The album opens with the pure and unadulterated sound of Nakamura's piano playing in “Yuube no Inori” (Evening Prayer), after which the low honk of ARAKI Shin's sax appears like fog rolling in, with all of the sounds buttressed by the gentle unfurl of orchestral strings and a trilling flute. The bright twinkle of Nakamura's piano playing is a constant source of pleasure throughout the recording, and the music's intimate character is reinforced by an occasional ambient sound, such as the creak of the piano bench. It's not a solo piano recital, however. Nakamura, Saito, and the saxophonists Shin and Akira Uchida bring a collectively explorative and meandering approach to “Koukei” (Sight) and “Dialogo” (incidentally, Jarrett isn't the only ECM figure evoked by Twilight, as Uchida's piping soprano saxophone playing in “Memoria” calls to mind Jan Garbarek). The elegant tenth track finds Nakamura's piano playing elevated by the sing-song cry of Rie Nemoto's violin. In “Faraway,” one of two eight-minute pieces, the saxophonists coil their lines gently around one another alongside the glow of electric piano chords and the breathy murmur of female voices (Janis Crunch and aspidistrafly's April Lee contribute vocals to the recording). Near album's end, the title track, a balladic dreamscape, appears with a lilting waltz tempo nicely complementing the ebb and flow of Lee's half-whispered vocals, while Crunch's soft voice makes the closing ballad, “The Light,” feel even more stirring.

The CD is accompanied by a twenty-four-page hardcover booklet that displays Polaroid photographs and words by Nakamura on paper that's designed to wear with use and age. Such details lend the release an autumnal quality that mirrors the recording as a whole, especially when it aims to distill the dwindling rays of light at day's end into musical form.

July 2010