Touching both before
And beyond, the gate opens
Wherever we stand
For Joji Hirota, the gate represents both past and future, and as such it serves as the perfect symbol for this amazing, ear-opening album. About half the tracks on The Gate are rooted in traditional folk melodies drawn from Hirota’s Japanese training, while the other half are original compositions drawing on classical and folk musics of both East and West. Hirota’s musical and emotional range is astounding, from gentle shakuhachi flute-accompanied lullabies to boomingly exuberant taiko drum pageants.
My favorite from the quieter side of the album is “Kokiriko Melody,” a lovely folk song from Fukui in northwest Japan. Originally composed to help farmers in their work, the song’s lyrics and percussion reflect the rhythm of the labor — stoop, plant, step, over and over. But Hirota’s plaintive shakuhachi, harp-like strings, and star-like tiny bells reveal the transcendent beauty in the work as well.
Great as The Gate ‘s quiet pieces are, though, the noisy ones are even better, thanks to the incredible energy and exuberance of Hirota’s taiko drumming. Take “Hiten, Ryu, and the Pageants Compete,” for instance, a taiko and shakuhachi composition that imagines a festival at which teams compete to race beautiful pageant-puppets, while a flying angel (Hiten) and a dragon (Ryu) watch from above, blessing the people. The shakuhachi here takes the part of the gods, now seen, now invisible, threading their way among the flying pennants and ribbons of the pageants, while the booming drums echo the throbbing hearts of the competitors, blurring and crashing together with timpani into one giant thrumming creature with a hundred voices, roaring its joy to the heavens.
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