Brett Larner is a master of the Japanese guitar-like koto, on which he has recorded a breathtaking series of duets with Anthony Braxton. On this fine disc he is joined by fellow koto player Shoko Hikage, along with Philip Gelb, who wields another traditional Japanese instrument, the flute-like shakuhachi.
This is improvised music that is formed and guided by the traditions and possibilities of these instruments. For although the music is improvised, apparently without much of anything in the way of a predetermined structure - and although the musicians are not playing traditional Japanese music - much of this disc breathes the pentatonic and meditative air of that music.
At the same time, this is very much free improvisation. The rhythms are irregular and oriented to the rhythm of the breath and the rise and fall of the emotions. Larner and Hikage are adept at the kind of melodic plucking and strumming that traditional koto players employ; they also, however, both resort to percussive and repetitive techniques that owe more to guitarists Derek Bailey and Roger Smith than to the tradition of Japanese koto playing. They are especially striking in the way they interact with each other, usually in juxtaposing contrasting motifs.
Gelb is the same way on the shakuhachi: he can and does play achingly beautiful melodic strands, but he also uses "outside" breathing techniques that make for quite a different texture and tone.
This is, for all the sparks that these players can generate, quiet music, obviously heartfelt and rich with the sincerity of each of the musicians. Recommended for all who savor good improvisations.
Brett Larner, koto; Shoko Hikage, koto; Philip Gelb, shakuhachi.