From the All Music Guide:
Being 100% Japanese isn’t mandatory if you’re a shakuhachi player. The instrument was actually invented in China, and occasionally, some Americans have played it on the side–jazzman Bobby King, for example, is a hard bop/post-bop saxophonist who has played the shakuhachi as a secondary instrument.
Nonetheless, Japan has dominated shakuhachi playing for centuries, and the instrument will always be closely identified with traditional Japanese music–which is what the Texas-born Riley Lee provides on Picture Dreams. Not many people who were born in Texas can honestly say that they play the shakuhachi as their main instrument, but Lee can–and he plays it in a traditionally Japanese way throughout this fine CD.
Some of Lee’s other releases have demonstrated that he isn’t a purist when it comes to Japanese music; a purist wouldn’t combine the shakuhachi with Indian tabla drums or the Aboriginal didjeridoo (two non-Japanese instruments that have been heard on some of Riley’s previous albums–although he didn’t play either of them himself).
Picture Dreams, however, is traditionally Japanese (as opposed to multicultural) in its approach. This excellent disc finds Lee forming a duo with Satsuki Odamura, a female koto player who grew up in Japan but now lives in Australia (which is also Lee’s adopted home). Although Lee has, at times, brought his shakuhachi to multicultural settings, Picture Dreams shouldn’t scare away any Japanese purists; an album of instrumental shakuhachi/koto duets is exactly the sort of thing that one expects from traditional Japanese music.
Lee and Odamura enjoy a strong rapport on all of the material, which is as tranquil as it is haunting. Picture Dreams gives world music enthusiasts yet another reason to applaud Lee’s mastery of the shakuhachi.
– Alex Henderson
From Amazon.com : Pristine serenity, seemingly untouched by the modern world!, October 1, 2006 There are only two instruments played on this album: the shakuhachi, an end-blown, bamboo flute, and the koto, a 13-stringed Japanese zither, a combination popular in Japan since the mid-17th century. And it’s easy to understand why; the two were made for each other. Whether by variations in breath or touch, both instruments are graced by a nuanced flexibility of intonation–that wavery sound within individual notes that, to Western ears, may seem slightly out of tune, but which actually imbues each tone with a subtle character all its own.
Both instruments are also capable of expressing a wide range of moods, from bright and piercing to lyrical and liquid. Shakuhachi master Riley Lee and koto virtuoso Satsuki Odamura are also perfectly matched, alternately gliding and tumbling their way through this collection of duets, playing off each other’s embellishments and silences like seasoned jazz improvisers. The result is at once relaxing and stimulating, and at all times utterly transporting!