Timeless Echoes

Image: Kojiro Umezaki playing the shakuhachi. Photo by Emily Zheng.

Exploring Kojiro Umezaki’s new album A Distance, Intertwined

Kojiro Umezaki, UC Irvine professor of music, esteemed shakuhachi player and composer, has just released his latest album, A Distance, Intertwined. Born in Tokyo and based in Los Angeles, Umezaki's artistry and research merge traditional Japanese music with cutting-edge technology. His primary instrument, the Japanese shakuhachi, finds new life through his innovative integration of real-time audio and video processing, creating a captivating blend of ancient and modern sounds. Umezaki's extensive background in computer music technology and electro-acoustic music further enriches his compositions, making his work a bridge between cultural preservation and contemporary expression.

“There’s always some kind of give and take that needs to happen when mixing traditional with contemporary approaches to playing an instrument like the shakuhachi,” shared Umezaki. “For the shakuhachi, it’s often a matter of the timing of phrasing and breathing. In the case of this project — always looking for a balance of playing markers of traditional performance and blending the sonic and timbral elements with the other instruments was my approach. For me, it is important to find moments to bring out the historical identity of the shakuhachi, while also poking holes and widening pathways in what divides distinct musical practices — in this case the shakuhachi and Western classical music.”

A Distance, Intertwined is a collaborative effort featuring debut recordings by Umezaki, Takuma Itoh, Chad Cannon, SunYoung Park and Angel Lam. The album, released on In a Circle Records, explores the concept of storytelling through both traditional folkloric and modern abstract approaches. Drawing inspiration from the Noh Theater piece Takasago, the album weaves together diverse musical narratives into a cohesive and enchanting journey. Each track offers a synthesis of cultural traditions, showcasing Umezaki's virtuosity and the rich, intercultural dialogue between the shakuhachi and other instruments.

“All the pieces on the album are by living composers who either are from countries located in East Asia or have very strong ties to that part of the world, but they are also living in the U.S.,” shared Umezaki. “If listeners can hear something in the album where similarity and difference are held equally in the same space — sometimes ambiguously so — in some memorable way, I’d be grateful for that.”

Listeners can immerse themselves in the intricate textures of the album, highlighting the shakuhachi's evocative prowess. From the nostalgic tones of Itoh’s Faded Aura to the dynamic interplay in Cannon’s Death Masks and the poignant reflections in Umezaki’s own Tied Together by Twilight, the album invites audiences to experience an in-depth connection across time and space. 

A Distance, Intertwined is available on Bandcamp, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. For more information and to read a review of the album, visit icareifyoulisten.com.


Posted Date: 
Friday, June 14, 2024