(Pacific Moon, 1999)

World music has always been a diverse genre, offering unlimited choices to the listener. Like so many other musical genres, world music has given way to eclectic fusions of tradition and cutting-edge technology. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out and the listener has to muddle through quite a bit of the mediocre to find the sublime. Well, here's a hint -- skip the inferior and go straight for a real gem.

Uttara-Kuru (which means Shangri-la in Buddhist terminology) combines the talents of Seiichi Kyoda and Kazumasa Yoshioka in an effort that is as much science as music. The duo fuses the tradition of the Japanese sutras and folk songs with the technology of the Western world.

The concept isn't particularly original, but the music is. Uttara-Kuru mixes traditional chanting (by traditional monks) with the heavy rhythms of techno, tempered with a synthesizer that bring such diverse styles into harmony. The music shifts from the trance-like to the rave-like while the listener is drawn into a sound that truly combines the music of over a millennium ago with that of the 21st century.

I usually don't pay much attention to the packaging for a CD, preferring to let the music speak for itself, but the jewel box for the Uttara-Kuru CD simply must be mentioned. This is a trademark of Pacific Moon; the jewel boxes are clear, and in the spine are four small sticks of incense, perfect for enhancing the mood of the CD.

One of my favorite tracks is "Tsugaru." The monotone chanting of the monks is the perfect foil for the bass, while the melody shimmers above. "Mendicant Priest" starts off quietly, sounding almost like white noise before settling into a rhythmic chant that is as intriguing as it is enjoyable. "Cocoro" is quiet, with traditional drums and chants supported by a gentle wave of ambience.

The art of combining traditional music with todays heavy bass rhythms and endless over sampling is just that -- an art. Uttara-Kuru rises admirably to the challenge, bringing something fresh and remarkably original to light.

[ by Crystal Kocher ]

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