Shunsuke Mizuno,
Slow Time
(Ozella, 2005)

There are many CDs that combine traditional instruments with modern musical forms, but few do it as well as this one. Shunsuke Mizuno captures the unrushed, flowing feel of Japanese classical music, hence the name Slow Time.

The first three cuts have only Mizuno on a five-string wood bass and Miwa Inaba on 22-string koto, with Mazaki Yoshimi on tabla on the second track. The two are also on the 10th track, and are joined on three other tracks by Ryo Watanabe on percussion. The 11th and last track, "Beech Forest," also has Shigeru Sawamura on piano and Aya Motohashi on hitiriki, a reed instrument with a short bamboo pipe (sometimes called a Japanese oboe).

Although Japanese music is not commonly heard in the U.S., anything you have heard is likely to have featured the koto, a type of zither, usually with only 13 strings. Mizuno blends in seamlessly with the koto, often bowing his bass, while the percussion works quietly.

Occasionally Mizuno comes to the foreground, as in "Poem in the Rain."All these tracks have the stately, expressive quality of Japanese melodies, reflected in in titles like "Rain in the Distance" and "Song of the Birds."

The other four tracks, without koto, sound like they come from a different CD, changing the mood a bit. This adds variety for American listeners not used to Japanese music. "Cosmos" is a quiet jazz number, sounding a bit South American with Chikara Tsuzuki on harmonica and Hiroki Miyano on guitar. Mizuno plays piano as well as bass and Itsuro Kai plays percussion.

"A Starry Night in Shanghai" sounds more traditional, as Keisuke Doi joins the four players on shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute). "The Sound of Rainy Day" has Shigeru Sawamura on piano and Mizuno adds the tan-kin to his bass playing. This is a charcoal instrument that sounds something like a xylophone. "Prologue" is a bass solo by Mizuno just a little over a minute long.

This meditative CD, entirely acoustic, is a fine bridge between jazz and traditional Asian music.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 9 July 2005