Music / CD Reviews | LISTENING POST

Wasabi crafts sounds of old Japan into something new

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Special To The Japan Times

Wasabi “Wasabi 2” (Japan Traditional Cultures Foundation)

Wasabi refines its take on traditional Japanese music for sophomore album “Wasabi 2.” Ryoichiro Yoshida, the elder of well-known shamisen duo the Yoshida Brothers, started Wasabi in 2008 with shakuhachi player Hiromu Motonaga and taiko drummer Naosaburou Bihou. They were later joined by Shin Ichikawa on a 17-string koto-style instrument called a .

The band approach isn’t usual for traditional musicians, but Wasabi says what sets it apart are the combination of these instruments and the minyō and koten folk backgrounds of the artists creates a distinct style. The members’ roots were evident on its eponymous 2012 debut, and “Wasabi 2” is a chance to build on that vibe further.

The first thing the listener may notice is the lack of digital processing on the album. Wasabi’s take on Japanese music insists that the sound stay as raw as possible and the producer doesn’t use echo or ambient effects. Sound isn’t a constant, either, and the use of silence on the album, especially on mellower songs such as “Aoi” (“Blue”) and “Kokuhaku” (“Declaration of Love”) is particularly striking.

Wasabi’s signature style of jaunty rhythms that feature the shamisen almost galloping forward hasn’t changed from its inception. The upbeat sound is best exemplified on a pair of tracks: “Bright” and “Mirai Kanata” (“Far in the Future”).

For newcomers, traditional music tends to be something you want to dip your toe into, but it’s hard to figure out where to start. Yoshida’s repertoire as a shamisen player pretty much guarantees that his involvement in something will be good quality, and “Wasabi 2” is no exception. (Daisuke Kikuchi)