Ryuichi Sakamoto – Playing The Piano/Out Of Noise (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

The complete list of collaborators attached to pianist/composer/modern day Renaissance man Ryuichi Sakamoto could easily fill the space reserved for a full-length review. The short list includes Brian Wilson, Thomas Dolby, Iggy Pop, David Sylvain, Robbie Robertson, and Daniel Bernard Roumain.

His film score resume, while somewhat more brief, is still equally impressive, including: The Little Buddha, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Wild Palms, The Last Emperor, and The Sheltering Sky.

With the release of the double CD Playing The Piano/Out Of Noise, we have a striking document of Sakamoto’s talents.

Playing The Piano, as its name implies, features Sakamoto “covering” his own material. Here, Sakamoto reinterprets his compositions for solo piano. It’s no wonder he has received so many accolades for his film score work as, even rendered in this sparse environment, the songs feel lush, at times romantic, and always full of melody. Playing The Piano (and the other soundtracks that I now feel compelled to own) will sit nicely on the shelf next to my copy of Thomas Newman’s American Beauty.

On Out Of Noise, we hear the other side (OK, one of the other sides) of Sakamoto, in which he explores that mysterious point when music decays in its transition to noise.

The disc opens with “Hibari,” a piano piece that at first sounds like a continuation of Playing The Piano, though the repetition and subtle use of dissonance make it stand apart from anything in the former collection. And it’s that bit of discordance that hints at the future.

“Hwit” follows with a long series of slowly evolving violin arpeggios that build in intensity in a way that brings to mind Gorecki. The tension continues to build throughout the piece, pushed along by the idea (your own) that something just has to happen soon…

Much of Sakamoto’s work is heavily influenced by his involvement with climate change activism. During his trip to Greenland with the Cape Farewell Project, Sakamoto recorded on the surface of a glacier as well as under the water of the Arctic Sea. This resulted in some truly haunting samples to be used for source material. My ear parts were particularly enamoured of “Ice,” which begins with droplet noises before beginning to morph into what sounds like a musical sketch of water’s journey across “Glacier.”

Out Of Noise is the kind of music that can take a long time to unfold in the listener’s head. The great thing is that subsequent listening sessions freely provide “new” details: exactly like an ever-changing glacier, even better — exactly like those decaying fragments the go on forever after the music has stopped.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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