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Review

Snapshot of Kitaro

Listen to Kitaro in a dark room with your eyes closed and if it doesn't evoke lush green meadows, nothing else will!


Thinking of You
Kitaro
Universal Music/Domo Records
Rs 125 (cassette)


Kitaro: marrying Japanese music with the synth Does a musician who has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, won a Golden Globe and half a dozen Grammy nominations, attempted everything from a symphony and film soundtrack to music for a Broadway stage show, need any introduction? Well, yes. Primarily because his genre, 'new age music' is relatively unknown in India.

Kitaro (born Masanori Takahashi in 1953, in a Japanese Shinto farming family in Toyohashi, Japan) has been producing what critics call 'mind music' for well over two decades. His style is the epitome of contemplative and melodic synthesizer music, closely associated with the 'new age' genre! Ironically, Kitaro's earliest musical inspiration was the R&B music of Otis Redding! He formed the Albatross band while still in school and played at local bars and parties. He then joined The Far East Family Band and released two albums of rock.

But the turning point in his musical quest was his meeting with the German synthesist, Klaus Schulze (of the German synth band Tangerine Dream). Kitaro was amazed by the possibilities of the synthesizer and even built one himself for his first solo effort Astral Voyage (Tenkai in Japanese) in 1978. He followed it up with music for the Japanese Television Documentary series Silk Road in 1980. Several albums sprang from the music of Silk Road, which helped Kitaro reach near-cult status in Asian and European countries. But he largely remained an underground artist in the US.

In 1986, Geffen records in the US picked up his music and re-issued as many as seven of his previous albums and paved the way for his international collaborations with the likes of Mickey Hart (of Grateful Dead, with whom he produced the 1987 album The Light of the Spirit) and Jon Aderson (of Yes, with whom he produced the 1992 album Dream). Both the albums got Kitaro Grammy nominations. His score for Oliver Stone's 1993 Vietnam war movie Heaven and Earth fetched him the Golden Globe award. The score was a remarkable fusion of traditional Vietnamese instruments and the sythesizer, applauded by everybody who saw the movie. Kitaro also scored the music for the broadway stage play Cirque Ingenieux in 1998.

Musically, Kitaro's style started with a sound that was ambient and used native instruments. His love for the synth made his music more dramatic but he retained an original and natural flavour by playing some traditional instruments with it. Kitaro, being a self-taught multi-intstrumentalist, plays the keyboard, guitar, flute and taiko drums among many other instruments, besides doing his own orchestra arrangements.

Thinking of You saw its worldwide release in 1999, but was released in India only in 2000. It's a snapshot of what Kitaro does best. It is a welcome reassessment of Kitaro's style as he moves away from grandeur to express more delicate and gentle music. Hence it's considerably softer than his earlier works, reminiscent of his Silk Road, with rising keyboard arpeggios (arpeggio refers to the notes of a chord played in succession and not simultaneously -- this ascending synth style has been his trademark for two decades), soaring flutes and rich synth strings. The pick of the album is the title track with synth flutes and broken bass chords. The track evokes a vast open space.

Mercury has a very rustic Japanese tune with a pan flute kind of sound. The sweeping intro of Cosmic wave and the shrill eerie flutes of Spirit of Water are other highlights of this album. Harmony of the Forest opens to the sounds of air, water and birds and shows how well Kitaro can use silent spaces to heighten the effect. Fiesta with its pulsating tribal drums and twin flutes goes right into the South American heartland.

The kabuki style beat in Stream is very unstructured when compared to the tala in Karnatak music, but gels well with the Japanese mood in the tune. Space II has a very Jean Micheal Jarre feel and is vastly different from the rest of the album. Kitaro's music spells peace. There are no words to interrupt you either. This is pure blissful Japanese traditional music fused with the synth to give it an additional dimension. Try listening to this one in a silent, preferably dark room, with your eyes closed. If it doesn't evoke a lush green meadow covered with dew, chances are nothing else will!

Karthik S


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