Tag Archives: contemporary

“Breach” – Live Koto Jazz & the SyntHorn @ The Royal Room; NW FOLKLIFE Next

Here is a live recording of a tune I first played at Stone Way Café’s Fremont Art Walk on April 1st, then recorded live at The Royal Room on April 13th with Koto Jazz accompaniment by Patrick Wilson on the SyntHorn –

🎶  “Breach”, by Chris Kenji & Patrick Wilson.

 

Koto Jazz on soundclick.com

 

Join me and Koto Jazz partners next week in Pioneer Square and Northwest Folklife –

April 29th, 7-8:30PM, Saturday, Koto Jazz @ FREDERICK HOLMES AND COMPANY Art Gallery, 309 Occidental Ave., Occidental Mall, Pioneer Square, dowtown Seattle; #206-682-0166.

May 27, 4:30- 5:10 PM, Friday, 2016 NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE;“Koto Jazz – Sounds On the Coast” by Chris Kenji, Center Theater, Seattle Center, Seattle WA. No cover

Advertisements

Koto Jazz 74: playing @ 101 Public House pub

Half time playing a piano gig at the pub in South Bend/ Raymond, the oyster capital of the world. And two Koto Jazz fans! This was so much more relaxing than a few weeks ago when I played at the Seattle Center. Ahhh, the taste of the ocean air , a couple koto jazz tunes . . .. and more oysters . …

KotoJazz 52: Song Stories – Shiyodamari to Nami (Tide Pools & Waves)

In my last performance at the Royal Room November 30th, I told the stories about how each of the Koto jazz songs I played came to be. The following I hope serve as a glimpse into the koto jazz process as I reflect on a particular part of the natural world and seek to bring out its natural majesty and beauty in a musical tune. Tide Pools l & The Wind, for example, I wrote a few weeks ago.

Shiyodamari To Nami (Tide Pools & Waves) – This smooth jazz song was inspired by viewing tide pools on the Oregon and Washington coasts, feeling the motions of wind dashing upon tide pools and waves; their undulating patterns; their graceful dance on sandy shores. When we leave our world whatever it is and enter the world of the majestic wind, we see that the Wind breathes the Spirit of life onto our world and we can be left with nothing but awe and inspiration.

KotoJazz 47: Jazz Koto & The Music of Eugene Yamamoto

The jazzy funk fusion style music of Eugene Yamamoto represents Jazz Koto music very well. He successfully preserves an Asian international sound or melody while including western rhythm, jazz and funk music styles.

You can listen to samples of Eugene’s music at Jazz Koto of Eugene Yamamoto, by Accardi/Gold and Union Label Music / Cloister Recordings.

His music is a frivolously fun style, even using the traditional Koto instrument in a new and unique way with adventurous, rhythmic plucking. He does this with a steady western style beat, which differentiates it from Koto Jazz tunes and traditional Japanese koto music. The rhythm and beat is definitively western, while some songs are interwoven with Asian and Japanese style melodies and chordal structures. These distinctions can be heard clearly as you listen to “Walk in the Garden” and “Samurai Dream Vacation“.

In “Saki Train” and “Martian Tea House” it seems he uses the Japanese koto instrument and sound with a funky, electronica sound.

Kudos to Eugene for his take on Jazz Koto and definitely worth a listen.

KotoJazz 22: 3 Key Elements to Japanese Gardens & Koto Jazz

The Portland Japanese Garden (the Garden) website outlines the fundamentals of the Japanese garden succinctly. So many elements seem to come in threes – Shinto, Buddhist, Taoist – and then the three essential elements – stone, water, and plants (see Portland Japanese Garden, at http://japanesegarden.com/learn-more/gardens/). According to Wikipedia, “traditional Japanese gardens can be categorized into three types: tsukiyama (hill gardens), karesansui (dry gardens) and chaniwa gardens (tea gardens).” (see Wikipedia, Japanese gardens).

Likewise in Koto Jazz, three fundamental elements are present in the music and sound that makes it unique – Japanese Koto, western influence (rhythm and jazz), and reverence to Nature. To continue this analogy, The Garden begins with the “bones” of the garden, stones. I would parallel this with the traditional Japanese koto musical roots of koto jazz. Though they may vary from one musical piece to another, traditional koto tunes with its spiritual roots provide the base of the “musical garden” of koto jazz. The Garden’s second element is water described as the “life-giving force” of the garden. Likewise in koto jazz, western influences of rhythm and jazz weave within and through koto jazz as its “life-giving force”. Finally, the Garden describes plants as the gardens’ tapestry of the four seasons. This is the embellishment and coloring of the garden landscape, just as inspiration from Nature provides the embellishment and coloring of koto jazz music.

Other physical elements such as pagodas, stone lanterns, water basins, arbors, maples, and bridges, are provided by this kotojazz.com blog. Feel free to scroll down for information about these elements of the Japanese garden. The above image is a scene in the Portland Japanese Garden showing varieties of colored Japanese maples and a bridge.

On July 5th at 9pm, you have the opportunity to see some of this koto jazz music on display at the Brass Tacks, Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It’s an exciting opportunity to first hand experience the creative energy and spiritual presence of koto jazz. For more information, see “events section” of this website. I hope to see you there!

KotoJazz 14: The Serendipity in “Order Out of Chaos”

I know I’m not alone in this. I know that many people, artists, designers, engineers, express their deeper, at times darker, life experiences through their art or trade of choice. My big lesson while playing the piano, is facing and overcoming fear. The first step is to know how fear is present in my life. It helps me face them. I find it is often tied to something that happened so long ago that I have unconsciously carried it with me unresolved over years, decades. So much of it stems from childhood trauma.

So often I sit in fear of imperfection, fear of sweet imperfection; not playing this or that tune or melody just right. I at times become paralyzed, as if it is better to not play at all if it can’t be played perfectly. My piano playing experiences are a microcosm of life’s lessons.

There will always be imperfection, and through that imperfect journey, that stumbling, prodding, and wandering into the unknown and uncertain, I have the opportunity to learn its innate perfection. It is the imperfection of the journey that makes it perfect; at minimum, it brings out perfection. The imperfection carries with it uncertainty and chaos. Out of the uncertainty, unclarity and chaos, inevitably comes the impeccably clear Mastery of Serendipity (discovery by accident).

It reminds me of “chaos theory”. Just like 1977 Nobel Prize Winner Ilia Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers’ book titled, “Order Out of Chaos” states, “the two great themes of classic science, order and chaos”, which coexisted in near conflict since science began, scientifically and mathematically coalesce into a “new and unexpected synthesis”. As Edward Lorenz puts it in his definition of “chaos theory”, chaos occurs “when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”

More reading about creativity and chaos theory is available here at Creative Chaos. If you dare to venture into a story line about “chaos communities”, how about a book on the Burning Man event?

Out of Spontaneous Serendipity comes the rare and unique, the innovative and delightfully unknown perfect masterpiece. When music lets go of the predictable, releases, or liberates itself from certainty of pattern or predictable stroke, only then does it venture into the unknown; only then may the genius of Serendipity coalesce into the uncharted territory of the perfect Masterpiece.

When we consider the great masters and creators of jazz, rock, or classical music, for example, we see that the great musicians follow the “chaos theory” in music quite profoundly. And when they have taken a slightly divergent course as proposed by “chaos theory”, only then did they reach a place that transcends what JFK called “the stale, dank atmosphere of normalcy”. Only then did they re-direct and advance the currents of our time. When that happens, profound spiritual, social, and cultural changes occur.

We live in a time of rapid, often chaotic change. Perhaps, we live in a time where science and art, where the technical and creative, where the image, the design and the real, where “The Head and the Heart”, truly converge into an harmonious co-existence of “order out of chaos”.

East-West Nation & The Next American Revolution, Part II

A continuation of the last “East-West Nation” blog, equally alarming is how much even some of the more progressive elements of our society choose to ignore Asia in the global discussion. For one example, so much is talked about health care in other countries, now at the highest level due to recent health care reforms. But the statistically healthiest country in the world is completely absent from the discussion.

So much is talked about the health care systems of Canada, the UK, France, but not an ounce of discussion about Japan or China, even though Japan maintains a more technologically advanced and advancing medical industry and health insurance system similar to that of the U.S. (in comparison to the aforementioned countries). I wrote in my book published by the National Conference of State Legislatures on Japan’s health care system. The WTO’s designated healthiest country in the world, Japan, has the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality, but was never part of the health care conversation! Not much more you can say about that . . . . wow!

Take for example, Jon Stewart’s humorous but astute observations about CNN’s coverage of the Malaysian Airlines crash. CNN has effectively turned it into America’s favorite pastime of “CIS”-ification of finding “possible” airplane parts in the ocean.

And yet we have a twisted way of creating paranoia around the rising power of Asian countries; first, Japan in the 80s, and now China and India. We speak of them stealing our livelihood as if they are responsible for decisions U.S. and international businesses are making to use their know- how and hard work. This seems to be the only way we can give credence to the Asia Pacific region.

The problem lies in the fact that even the parties intellectually attuned to Asia, find little incentive politically or otherwise to recognize or acknowledge Japan, China, India, Korea or other Asian influence. The United States establishment is too deeply entrenched in a Euro-centric world such that most international relations and comparative analysis occurs only in relation to our European partners and/or conflicts in the Middle East. The oddity and insanity of it is that all of Europe is more focused on Asia! The result is we keep banging up against the same boring ideas, theories, solutions, and angles. The extremism in the west bangs up against the extremism of the Middle East. But notice that when we turn east to Asia, there’s no more banging!

The banging up of egos become tempered by cooperation and conciliation, and it’s deeply rooted in eastern mysticism and spirituality. Even the Muslim conflicts with the west which are filtered through the conflicts in the Middle East are suddenly sifted through the more rational, less extremist and more conciliatory nature of Asian Pacific Island countries and people (e.g., Indonesia, India and Malaysia; Indonesia being the world’s largest Muslim country).

I’m not so sure there’s a point to banging my own head on this subject, but someday it will not matter, even though in today’s environment, there is a critical need to shed light on the subject. What I’ve learned from my amazing, physically tiny but spiritually giant Japanese mother is, “Dai jobu dai yo. Shimpai shinai de; shi ka ta ga nai” (it’s ok, just let it go. Don’t worry; it can’t be helped”). Time to get back to piano playing. I just posted my version of the famous “Kodomo No Hi” (Children’s Day) theme song, “Koi Nobori”. I also have a few koto jazz gigs coming up this summer at a venue near you. Keep coming back if it works for you. 🙂

East-West Nation & The Next American Revolution:

This blog entry departs from talking about music for a moment of reflection I wrote about back in the 90s at a boutique publication, “The Asia Pacific Economic Review“. For a nation so attuned to new frontiers since its revolutionary founding, few people here really see the next revolution transforming our country in our everyday lives. In many ways, it is more an evolution since so many influences have been taking place over a number of decades.

It is sometimes subtle, sometimes “in your face” blatantly obvious. It’s in our food, media images, our tv virtual reality shows, our music, our children’s comic strips, toys & tv shows, our very way of life.

When was the last time you and your family went to dinner for sushi, kalbi, dim sum, or teriyaki? Or stunned to see your very American as apple pie next door neighbor design a beautifully polished Japanese garden in their back yard? Or to find out your former U.S. Marines buddy is deeply immersed in daily Buddhist meditation?

When was the last time you found your children couched like potatoes in front of a popular Japanese anime tv show or Japanese video game? Or your child begging for the latest Transformer, Pokemon or Hello Kitty toy? When tv surfing for the next tv show, did you land on a virtual reality show; more specifically did you stop to watch Iron Chef or the next American Idol? All of these things have one thing in common. They all originate from Japan, China, and other parts of East Asia. The original virtual reality shows were on televisions in Japan long before they washed onto the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean.

We might have been threatened by it in the 80s when the Japanese corporate “invasion” of buying up landmark American properties was in full swing. Or the popular conversations about new business management approaches, such as those of UCLA scholar William Ouchi’s “Theory Z”. It was a threat then to America’s political, business, intellectual, and media establishment, but less so to the masses on the street. To put it bluntly, it threatened the American intellect, but not the heart of America.

In the 70s and 80’s, we saw the long term and permanent impact of martial arts and eastern health care, yoga, eastern meditation, naturo-pathic medicine, physical therapy, eastern spirituality (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Asian Islam, Confusionism) take its place alongside western culture. Even before this time, Japanese anime began to influence the American psyche as early as the 50s. Then, we saw the longstanding Asian influences in modern architecture and landscaping take hold, beyond Frank Lloyd Wright in the 20s, then I.M. Pei, and an ongoing toying with the influence of Zen-like, minimalist thinking to modern architecture, landscaping, art, and culture.

The Next American Revolution is more psychological and spiritual than physically tangible. Remarkable is how much our western cultural origins cloud our vision to be almost completely oblivious to this next American revolution. If it is brought up in general to the mainstream media and leaders, even those known to be the more progressive leaders, completely trivialize or only quietly acknowledge its impact.

A good majority of our media and American consciousness simply ignore it, but it’s turning American culture upside down, or should I say it has already turned American culture upside down. For that matter it has transformed all of western society. It is equally pervasive in European countries, even parts of South America. Talk to the American media, including Hollywood, and they might give you a blank stare. But talk to them about all the things that make up our modern society today and you will find a high awareness of all things Asian as long as the west can claim it as their own. It leaves a deep streak and indelible mark at the core of our society. Things of Asian origin and the Asian influence has become so much a part of American life that it’s Asian origin is almost indistinguishable from it’s American-‘ness’. It pervades our entire society and our entire way of life. It goes well beyond our children’s obsession with Pokemon, Mario, and Hello Kitty. It leaves a permanent imprint far broader than our teenagers’ obsession with anime tv shows or video games. The song “I think I’m turning Japanese; I really think so” is no longer a joking mockery; it is an omnipresent, all pervasive occurrence from the main streets of our rural towns to the high rises of our largest metropolitan cities.

So what is behind this oversight and what lies within these insights?

This week I plan to visit North America’s first sanctioned Japanese Shinto Shrine, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). I hope to be lead back to the Shinto spiritual nature- immersion into the beauty within the leaf of a red maple tree, blooming cherry blossoms, the flow of crystal clear glacier water, a stone lantern reflected upon still waters embellished with garden flowers, and possibly the serene sound of koto music in the background summoning the mind, heart and spirit to let it all go. 🙂

KOTOJAZZ 4: KOTO INFLUENCES TODAY

If you talked to contemporary ambient/ new age artists

  • Lee Pui Ming,
  • Geoffrey Castle,
  • Riley Lee or
  • Brian Eno,
  • would they attribute some of their influences to Koto music? There’s no question in my mind each of these artists’ musical expressions are rooted in the same source. The spirit of these creators of art, whether or not directly linked to Koto, have produced their works in the same spirit as those of Koto, stirred by the energy and images of the Natural world; Nature breathing life into their music. Each offer a subtle eastern influence, except in the case of Riley Lee where it’s more front and center. Riley Lee’s Satori, for example, as a Grand Master of shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), pulls from similar Japanese traditions.

    While it might be a stretch to say that the alternative rock band Kid Simple’s album “Samurai” or The Sun Dogs’ single “This Shroud” were inspired by traditional Koto music (more Native American influences), it is more accurate to say their music happens upon a same consistent, slow and steady base accompanied by a exploration in and out of dissonance, similar to those often expressed in Koto pieces.

    Koto Jazz is an exciting genre concept for which the above artists may or may not subscribe. Even if these artists came upon their similarities completely independent of Koto influences, the spirit behind the Koto tradition is present in their music.

    What I love so much about Koto music are its basic principals — there are none– none that can be defined and put into a western context; back to its Shinto- Buddhist roots. Perhaps, it involves a tune stringing along a single minor/ sharp chord somewhat randomly interwoven, but not always; possibly fusing a jazz chord progression or two into the mix (but very rarely more than two), with long moments of silence and silent moments where it seems (from a western perspective) a note should be played? Koto does not attempt to interfere with a pure and transparent channel of life flowing through music by intervening patterns imposed by western chordal structures and definitions. This all too often restricts and limits the free natural flow of sound and spirit.

    To quote part of JFK’s eulogy of Robert Frost, “if art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. . . We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda, it is a form of truth.”

    KOTOJAZZ 1: KOTO JAZZ DEFINED – SPIRITUAL ORIGINS

    Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle) are musical tunes that attempt to capture the energy or images of the natural object; in this case, a hummingbird and a rhinoceros beetle. I believe staying true to the spiritual origins of Koto is paramount.

    Spiritually, Koto jazz seeks to bring out the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist spiritual nourishment derived from connection and reverence to nature as well as ancestral worship. The western influences of jazz, in part, have their origins in western Judeo-Christian ideals and institutions. It is my opinion we need to bring these two together into an harmonious whole of “yin and yang”, bringing out the best in both traditions which lifts us to broader spiritual growth and learning.

    The best written description/ representation of this that I’ve read to date is the a #1 New York Times Bestselling book by James Redfield called The “Celestine Prophecy“, and our evolution toward a global non-religious spiritual awakening.