Naph: Estuary

Estuary is the follow-up to Autumn of the Saroos, the double-disc set Toru Ohara issued two years ago under the Naph alias. Similar to its predecessor, the new release, once again issued on Ohara's Ambiencephono label, is a generous collection whose eighteen settings last in a number of cases a minute in length and no more than six. Though violinist Tomoki Takeuchi and flugelhorn player Shinobu Nagao contribute to the forty-six-minute recording, Estuary is largely a solo undertaking: Ohara's credited with guitar (acoustic and electric), bass (fretless, electric five-string), electric piano, mini-moog, harmonica, flugelhorn, and field recordings, and many of his soothing settings appear to be ones he assembled piece by piece.

Much of Estuary is minimalistic in construction and peaceful in tone. Arrangements are handled in a restrained manner, with Ohara often using no more than three or four instruments in a given piece and sometimes a single one only. The opening title track, for instance, is, in essence, an extended bass solo accompanied by seaside sounds, while gentle settings such as “Fluctuation of the Lake Surface,” “Town Away,” and “Silent Wave” largely focus on sparse acoustic guitar playing (with a field recording of water sounds included in the latter case). That Estuary is reflective and laid-back is also intimated by the inclusion of three numbered tracks given the title “Contemplation,” and some of the short tracks feature field recordings only (e.g., “Susaki”), a move that produces a pleasing contrast when they're juxtaposed with tracks featuring conventional instruments.

Estuary has one other thing in common with Autumn Of The Saroos, but in this case it's a weakness: the flugelhorn playing, which is once again credited to both Naph and Shinobu Nagao. What was stated in the review of the earlier release applies to the new one, too, specifically that the recording would be better with the flugelhorn playing omitted. An otherwise pretty piece such as “On the Way Back to Our Home,” for example, is marred when amateurish horn playing surfaces alongside Naph's acoustic guitar picking and Takeuchi's string textures. Put simply, the horn playing is a sour note on an appealing collection otherwise free of them.

June 2015