CD Review: NANKURU NAISA
Since Jin Jin, the previous project by Hirayasu and Brozman, was one of my favorite recordings of 2000, it was difficult to not approach their second release with too-high expectations. Jin Jin had a fresh, spontaneous and utterly charming aura to it, made up as it was of Okinawan folksongs and children's songs and played by two world-class musicians who had just met.
Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar
Nankuru Naisa, is something altogether different, although it features the two musicians in the same roles. It's mostly contemporary songs written by Takashi and includes an actual backing band on most of the tracks. I have to confess that this album didn't "gel" for me until I listened to it on the veranda of a beach cottage on a tropical island watching the sun set; and again later that evening with the translated lyrics in hand.
This is a more complex record than Jin Jin, but in some ways is just as good, possibly even better. It helps that the guest musicians include the talented drummer Rick Walker, bassist Piper Heisig and multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo, who is best known for his work with Los Lobos but who has become a major figure on the World Music scene.
Several of the songs touch on Takashi's youth as a musician in clubs catering to American servicemen in Okinawa, including the "Tojo Nite" ("On the Road"), a languid ballad in which the musician muses on his influences, including James Brown, Ben E. King and Otis Redding, and wonders whether any of the Americans on leave from Vietnam he saw in the clubs are still alive. In "Koza No Machi," or "Okinawa City," set to a swinging nightclub-pop tune, he sings about a youthful crush he had on a prostitute near the American base. This is real danceable swing music, with the whole band joining in for some scat vocals on the last verse.
Other tracks deal with the history of Okinawa, which has been occupied by China, Japan and the United States. Takashi sings the opening track, a driving, funky folk-rock number "Jidai No Nagare" ("The Passage of Time,") in homage to the late Okinawan singer Rinsho Kadekaru. And "Toshin Doi" ("Welcome to Okinawa") is a frenetic arrangement of a traditional song with complex melody and harmony set to a ska-type beat.
There are also some slower ballads, including the touching "Song for Mother," dedicated to Takashi's 87-year-old mother and played to a chord structure reminiscent of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence." It's a beautiful showpiece of Takashi's poetic gift, including lines translated as "You take care of me in my dreams," and "I live under your protection."
Two back-to-back tracks, "Chim Don Don," ("My heart beats fast") and "Aitaina" ("I Want to see him") are complementary love songs, the first an upbeat number by the man expecting a visit from his lover, the second a slow song of longing by the woman, highlighted by the unexpected strains of Hidalgo's accordion.
The title track, which translates as "Don't be impatient, take it easy," possesses one of the catchiest melodies I've heard in ages, set to a 6/8 beat that is common worldwide in folk music. It's a loping, funky stew, with African and Cuban drums, Brozman on the Andean charango, Takashi on sanshin and Hidalgo on the Mexican guitar and requinto.
Throughout, as on their first record, the understated playing of Takashi and Brozman are perfectly beautiful, and their playful and reverent spirits shine through, no matter what language is used. Nankuru Naisa is a worthy successor to Jin Jin and a superb record in its own right.
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