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Haruka Nakamura: Ongaku no Aru Fuukei
Kitchen. Label

The career of Tokyo-based composer Haruka Nakamura (b.1982) has undergone a dramatic ascent since the appearance of his first album Afterglow, a split album with Akira Kosemura that was released on Schole in 2007. Four solo albums have appeared since then, including the piano-based Twilight, issued on Kitchen. in 2010, and now Ongaku no Aru Fuukei (Music With Scenery), an ambitious two-CD set also released by the esteemed Japanese label. Kitchen. has packaged Nakamura's latest release in impressive manner, with its two CDs and a thirty-two-page booklet filled with photographs and text nestled within a cardboard case that itself slips inside a box adorned with matt gold foil. Needless to say, any artist would be delighted to have his/her work presented so splendidly.

Recorded at the concert hall ‘Sonorium' in Tokyo, the music on the 106-minute recording is performed by Nakamura's ‘Piano Ensemble,' a quintet featuring the leader on piano accompanied by ARAKI Shin (saxophone, flute), Akira Uchida (saxophone), Rie Nemoto (violin), and Isao Saito (drums); the nine-member female choir CANTUS also appears. The musicians have played together extensively during the past four years, which helps them meet the challenges of Nakamura's music and enables them to move seamlessly between material that in some passages seems rigorously composed and in others improvised. The result is a music, led by the composer yet collectively birthed, that truly comes alive in the moment as it tackles multiple genres, from chamber classical and hymns to ECM-styled jazz and impressionistic sound paintings.

While some of the nine pieces—new ones Nakamura composed for the project as well as reworkings from Twilight (there's also a bonus, download-only track included with the physical release)—are in the four- to six-minute range, most are long-form settings extending from ten to nineteen minutes. Nakamura paints his music with subtle strokes; though all of the players might be involved in a given piece, they don't necessarily play at the same time, and the composer allows the music to breathe by leaving ample space within it, something especially noticeable in the longer settings. What results is material that, being so delicately wrought, induces contemplative engagement in the listener.

Nakamura opens the album with a lovely, hymn-like setting guided by the crystalline splendour of his minimal piano playing, its chords gently kissed by violin, cymbal accents, and a saxophone's purr. The music, delicate and intimate, appears to be being born before our ears, with the ensemble members attuned to the others' gestures with sensitivity. It's an effect nurtured even more strikingly during “Nowhere,” an eighteen-minute meditation that often hangs suspendedly in the air when the spaces between the notes extend so amply. One of the highlights definitely arrives when the nineteen-minute title track undertakes a rousing climb and caps its many moments of supplication with a gorgeous, waltz-styled coda. Memorable too are the closing settings, which feature oft-stirring contributions from the female choir.

Aromatic traces of ECM artist Jan Garbarek sometimes seep into Ongaku no Aru Fuukei, especially in those moments when soprano saxophone playing surfaces (during, for instance, the heartfelt reverie that ends disc one so beautifully), and Nakamura himself plays with a refinement that might remind some of Keith Jarrett. Such considerations aside, Nakamura's album presents a veritable world of music that's by turns stately, exuberant, ruminative, and explorative. It's a remarkable collection that offers the listener an abundance of riches to savour.

May 2015