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I’m sitting in Koen-Dori Classics, a darkened club in the basement of a church on Koen-dori, in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The audience is small, seated in a few rows facing the performers at the front. Silence, then the performance begins. Textured sounds emanate from the guitar, keyboard, laptop. Then the koto joins in, and a world of sound like nothing you’ve heard before is created.

The koto sounds come from Michiyo Yagi, a koto player, improviser and composer. Her music spans genres and is impossible to define. She has incredible breadth, perhaps unparalleled in the koto or even Japanese music scenes. While traditionally trained, she goes beyond the confines of her training to create music entirely her own. She is equally comfortable playing Edo Period (1603-1868) compositions as she is improvising with the giants of avant-garde free jazz from Japan, Europe and the United States or performing her own compositions. Her new CD, out next month, will feature six original compositions.

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