CD Review and Interview: JIN JIN
Relaxation takes a lot of effort, and the music of Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman does what's needed to bring the overworked but underenriched modern listener sounds that will put him at ease rather than put him to sleep. On the unexpected but absorbing Jin Jin/Firefly, a mix of Hirayasu's native Okinawan folk and Brozman's Hawaiian-based worldbeat inflections, the duo masters the art of what to leave out, putting its virtuosity in the service of simplicity.
Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar
One a preservationist of ancient sounds who also embraces modern pop (Hirayasu), the other a mainland American who's departed the pop machinery of his homeland to immerse his art in other traditions (Brozman), they are each other's perfect foil and teacher. The interplay of Hirayasu's three-string snakeskin banjo (sanshin) and Brozman's Hawaiian, Andean, and mainland steel guitars is alternately playful and placid.
The meeting is so fortuitous that the pair has completed a second collaboration even as the first one ships, but CDNOW was able to stop them before they played again for a moment of reflection.
CDNOW: What do you each think is the right balance to strike between honoring roots and staying current?
Takashi Hirayasu: I teach Okinawan traditional music, but if I were to play only traditional music, young people, especially in Okinawa or Japan, would not listen. So I want to include outside influences. In the past, though, Okinawan musicians have always embraced different cultures, such as from China. My teachers were influenced by China, so [my] listening to Western music and incorporating those influences is the same as has always happened. I have a strong Okinawan identity, but I never have to say this. I'm just myself, which is Okinawan.
Bob Brozman: We feel there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. We try to play only the good music [laughs]. All of the collaborative projects I have done have been with musicians from around the world who are masters of their own cultures, but also curious, open-minded, and adventurous enough to want to try [and] mix sounds to produce fresh and beautiful new music. When I work with various artists, I don't try to only "meet them halfway"; I try to get three-quarters of the way towards them.
Many reporters will probably ask you what it was that drew you to each other's culture. But what do you each think attracted your partner to your culture?
Hirayasu: I think Bob's first influence was '20s and '30s blues, such as Charlie Patton, then Hawaiian or Caribbean music, "island music." Okinawa is, of course, also an island. [But] I feel that Bob is interested in not only music, but the people who live on that island; the way they live and [their] history.
Brozman: Takashi has been for a long time trying to expand the traditions of Okinawan music by allowing his other influences to color and inform his own music. So it was natural for him to want to collaborate with a Western artist. I think Takashi likes my playing and … he is a maniac like me [laughs].
There are a number of labels the market could use to describe your album, including the "world" and "new age" ones used here. How would you each describe your music, and in what ways would you welcome or decline the labels?
Hirayasu: It's just Okinawan music to me. I don't mind how people listen or appreciate our music. Instruments are just that: They're like toys to use to make music. Bob just brought different toys than me to make this album [laughs]. It's not just Hawaiian or Okinawan, or blues music; this is our music, which I couldn't have made without Bob.
Brozman: This music should be heard by people who like world music, blues, guitar music, Hawaiian, new-age instrumental, and finally just good singing and playing. I think this CD would appeal to just about anybody whose heart is still beating.
In fusing the various musics you do, are there any particular sounds which you feel compliment each other more naturally than others, or do you pursue hybrids which seem more unlikely, to see how they might work?
Hirayasu: I think on the track "Bebe Nu Kusakaiga," Bob's slide solo really matches the feeling of the song. I always thought that natural sounds, such as the sea or wind, can be heard from Bob's guitar. I pursued hybrids that sounded [literally] natural.
Brozman: When we arranged the songs -- in the little Taketomi Island shack, on the same tatami mats that we all slept, ate, rehearsed, and recorded on -- I kept in mind the sonic frequency spectrum. So each instrument occupies a place in the spectrum from bass to treble, [and] this enables all instruments to be heard without masking each other. Hirayasu's sanshin just cuts right through the center of this palette of sound colors. I also approach the guitar and Hawaiian guitar as a "portable universal translator of culture," so I choose instruments and sounds which blend well.
Tell us what we can expect from your next album together.
Hirayasu: When I went to Canada I played with Cubans, Greeks, Africans, etc. I listened and remembered the phrases, and some of those I wanted to use in the next album. For example, I've never played with acoustic upright bass before, but when I saw a Gypsy guitarist with that kind of bass, I thought I'd like to include [it].
Brozman: This time [we] recorded at my place in Northern California. We also invited David Hidalgo from Los Lobos to add his soulful playing to an already great mix of styles -- Okinawan ska, blues, swing, Afro-Mexican 6/8, and more.
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