Boomkat Product Review:
Stunning fresh material from iconic Japanese percussionist Midori Takada, who collaborates with Buddhist monks on this startling and powerful layering of traditional chants, Japanese percussion and marimba. Huge recommendation.
There's not much like this out there, that's for sure. In 2019, Takada assembled Buddhist monks belonging to the Samgha group of the Shingon school of Koya-san, led by Reverend Syuukoh Ikawa in Tokyo, and recorded a suite of liturgical chants. She supervised the recording herself and then laid down her own additions, fleshing out sacred texts with minimal percussion and the kind of spacious marimba composition she's best known for. Takada's experienced a renaissance since the reissue of her phenomenal 1983 solo debut "Through The Looking Glass" racked up praise back in 2017. She's often lumped in with the environmental music set - like Hiroshi Nakamura and Yoshio Ojima - but that's a misreading of her influences and intentions. Takada started out as a percussionist with Berlin's Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s, but got quickly bored, returning to Japan to dig into gamelan music, African drumming and 20th century minimalism.
When Takada began to record music with her group the Mkwaju Ensemble, it sounded completely unique, and her debut solo plate was even more singular, folding a deep knowledge of percussion forms into a near-ambient template. And while the resurgence of interest in her music certainly stems from the same YouTube algorithm that powered an obsession with Hiroshi Yoshimura's "Green" (and others), her music has quickly pulled away. In 2018, she recorded the fascinating (and still unfairly underrated) "La Renard Bleu" with Lafawndah, and "You Who Are Leaving to Nirvana" further builds out her legend, directing her outsized skills into even more unfamiliar spaces. Her music's always retained an air of spirituality - her influences often veer into sacred spaces - and this album is the first time it's been so specifically positioned. The majority of the record (six out of the seven tracks) is made up of specific traditional Buddhist chants - sacred esoteric texts - and filled out with a single new composition by Takada.
The recordings from Samgha group are the basis of most of the tracks, but Takada's additions shuffle "You Who Are Leaving to Nirvana" far to the left of any anthropological records that might have appeared over the years. Scraping singing bowls, ringing bells and creating reflecting pools of resonant, throbbing ambience, Takada increases the irresistible otherworldliness of the mantras. The core is intact, but Takada's soundscapes elevate everything to the next level; it almost feels like a match made in heaven - Takada's music has always BEEN this, in many ways, and to contextualize it so literally is fitting. There's no longer a need to compare her music to the ambient greats, now it belongs to a more hallowed canon: file this one alongside Arvo Pärt, Kali Malone and John Tavener.