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Friday, September 13, 2013

Kuniko, Cantus

The Japanese percussionist Kuniko Kato has a way about her. The album Cantus (Linn CKD 432) shows that clearly. It's her alone, on marimba and other percussion, sometimes multitracked to get the full result.

She performs Hywel Davies' "Purl Ground" and Kuniko's own re-arrangement for percussion of some Arvo Part and Steve Reich gems--"Fur Alina," "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten," "Fratres," and "Spiegel Im Spiegel" by Part; "New York Counterpoint" by Reich. The respective composers supervised the sessions.

What is especially remarkable about this collection is Kuniko's almost legato approach to the mallet instruments, especially the marimba. Apparently the instruments were not close-miked so that gives the sound a resonance it wouldn't have quite so much out front with typical studio miking. But it is mostly how she plays, laid back and swinging yet not as sharply sounding as typical marimba soloists and ensembles sound, for example on the Reich.

She has done a great job with the re-arrangements. There is a sweet spaciousness. Her sound gives the well-known works a new life, as if you are hearing them anew. The Davies work is equally compelling.

There is something to me that sounds spatially-cosmically Japanese about her renditions, like a minimalist Japanese house--matter-of-fact yet mysterious in its presence. It's both simple in appearance yet deeply meaningful. Kuniko sounds like that to me.

This is one stunning album. Kuniko is a phenomenon and she makes the music her own in sonically moving ways. Excellent!

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