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March 03/04/14, 2014
The Road of Hasekura Tsunenaga reviewed by Clive Bell

New review from the album "The Road of Hasekura Tsunenaga" in the European Shakuhachi Society:

For english readers!:
You can read a Rodrigo Rodriguez – The Road of Hasekura Tsunenaga reviewed by Clive Bell at:
http://shakuhachisociety.eu/

 

 

Rodrigo Rodriguez has structured his latest shakuhachi album around the trip of Japanese ambassador Hasekura Tsunenaga to Spain around 1614. While in Spain Hasekura was baptised. He proceeded to France, where he wowed the inhabitants of Saint-Tropez, and to Italy to meet the Pope, and have his portrait painted in the European style (featured here on the cover). Sadly, by the time he returned to Japan, persecution of Christians was in full swing, and several of Hasekura’s descendants and servants were killed as a result. All this makes Rodriguez’s album a kind of response to Jordi Savall’s La Ruta De L’Oriente, which tackles Francisco Xavier’s mission to Japan in 1549.

Rodriguez’s shakuhachi teachers are Kakizakai Kaoru and Miyata Kohachiro. At the album’s heart are well played traditional solos: “Kumoi Jishi”, “Sagariha”, “Sanya Sugagaki”, “Kogarashi” and “Azuma Jishi”. Of these, I enjoyed “Sanya” best – it’s a committed performance, with a nice, slightly clouded tone, while “Azuma” has an attractively light and windy quality. Rodriguez has recorded and produced himself, and the recording quality varies a little; generally good, but “Sagari Ha” places the flute at a distance. The flutes are standard 1.8 or similar size.

Beyond these pieces, there’s a plethora of other material. Several compositions by Rodriguez are for shakuhachi duet, where he’s joined by British player Justin Williams. “5 October 1614” interweaves melodic lines in simple pentatonic scales; the title is not explained, but it’s the date Hasekura arrived in Spain. “Towards God” celebrates the baptism – the scales are more thoroughly Western, which I guess is appropriate, and the flutes larger. It’s pleasant, if a little meandering; I preferred the more sombre “Arrival In Sendai” that concludes the album.

Other duets feature Elena Armenteros’s harp. After the time (all too brief) when I was his student, I knew Miyata had become a famous composer of light music. Even so, I was shocked by his arrangement of “Shika No Tone”, played here on shakuhachi and a nimble harp. As I listened to this, I felt like a hawkish US patriot first encountering Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” – although in reverse, if you understand. Miyata is taking a classic and making a hyper-conservative version of it, placing the austere traditional melody over Western chords. It’s hilarious how effortlessly the bracing lines of “Shika” are reduced to New Age kitsch. Rodriguez’s own “Dialogues” duet is more dignified, and the bottom register of the harp creates drama.

Inside this baggy, overlong (77 minutes) album, is a better, shorter CD struggling to get out. There’s plenty of fine playing here, and ambassador Hasekura is a fascinating figure. By contrast with the music, the sleeve notes are way too short. Though I guess we can all look up Hasekura on Wikipedia.

Clive Bell (2013)