paniyolo: Hi To Te Ma

Can an album comprised of largely acoustic guitar instrumentals hold one's attention? If the guitarist in question is Muneki Takasaka (aka paniyolo), it most definitely can. Three years after his debut album I'm Home, the Japanese guitarist (born in Fukushima in 1982) eschews electronics so as to allow for the greatest possible intimacy between musician and listener. Though the credits show that Takasaka plays synthesizer as well as steel and nylon guitars and guitalele, the synthesizer is used subtly (on “Kotokoto,” for instance) as atmospheric colour: make no mistake, Hi To Te Ma is an acoustic guitar recording, first and foremost.

The fourteen-track album presents thirty-five minutes of uncommonly beautiful music that encompasses multiple moods, from playful and joyous to nostalgic and melancholy. As lovely as the music sounds, its major selling point is melody. Takasaka has an obvious gift in that regard and shows it by rolling out one stirring vignette after another. His sensitivity to compositional form is striking, too. Hear, for example, how naturally he slows the tempo during the quietly jubilant “Irodori” for a brief episode of wistful reflection before a little percussive knock shakes us out of reverie and back to joy. Takasaka also has a soft spot for the lilting waltz form, which is used to heartbreaking effect on “Utsuroi” and “Motif.”

He's joined by two guests, whose presence helps flesh out the album on the modest number of tracks on which they appear: Suguru Oba contributes piano and electric piano (the latter to “Shizuku,” for example), and Izumi Misawa's marimba is prominently featured in “Kawabenohana.” But Hi To Te Ma is largely the sound of paniyolo solo, however, and that's certainly satisfying all by itself.

June 2012