“I think I’m turning Japanese – and loving it”
Riley Lee – an American playing Japanese-derived music – enriches our country by basing himself here.
Lee actually adds another dimension to our cultural landscape, like a unique plant in a rainforest, because of the singular aesthetic of the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) in Japanese traditional music.
The sound is so astonishingly pure: it aches with the sadness of loss and the sadness of wisdom, pulses with the joy of being alive and whispers of an elegance almost too exotic to be true.
With its range of settings and collaborations, this compilation album is a wonderful way to discover the mysterious delights of Lee’s music.
Like many of the finest and most interesting musicians operating today, Lee uses a given tradition as a springboard rather than allowing it to become a prison.
He composes pieces for specific collaborations with such care that Matthew Doyle’s didgeridoo sound just as natural and convincing beside the shakuhachi on Spirits Dance and Prayer for Children as Satsuki Odamura’s koto does on Sacramental Christian Lullaby.
The latter is a remarkable piece of music.
The stately grace of the opening – akin to 17th-century European music – gives way to a shakuhachi cadenza alive with a sprightly defiance before the notes of the koto fall once more like sparse drops of water.
The Dream, on which Lee is joined by Andy Rigby’s harp, shows the versatility of the shakuhachi in this man’s hands.
The whole tonal quality shifts to sound sometimes like a conventional Western flute, sometimes pinched, almost like a reed instrument.
The cover, by the way, is illustrated with a specially commissioned painting by the late Arthur Boyd.
– John Shand
From the All Music Guide:
For centuries, it was almost unheard of for a white person to play the shakuhachi, an Asian bamboo flute that was brought to Japan by Chinese travelers in the eighth century and eventually became Japan’s most famous wind instrument.
But technology made the world seem much smaller in the 20th century, and these days, it isn’t impossible to find white musicians from North America, England, or Australia who can play the instrument well. A perfect example is the Texas-born Riley Lee, whose mastery of the shakuhachi is evident on this tranquil, peaceful CD. Offering a sample of recordings that he made in the 1990s, Postcards From Bundanon: The Very Best of Riley Lee isn’t the last word on his shakuhachi playing but is still a good place for novices to get acquainted with it. Lee isn’t a purist; some of the material favors a traditional Japanese approach, but much of it has a more global and multicultural outlook.
The musicians who join Lee are heard playing everything from Indian tabla drums to the didgeridoo, an instrument that was created by Australian aboriginals. Those aren’t exactly traditional Japanese instruments, and hearing them alongside the shakuhachi only adds to the intrigue.
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, Japanese Buddhist monks who mastered the shakuhachi were hardly known for their use of Indian or aboriginal instruments – and back then, shakuhachi players didn’t have Anglo names like Riley Lee. But again, technology made the world feel a lot smaller, and it made it easier for Lee to take the sort of chances that he takes on this consistently interesting CD.
– Alex Henderson
From Amazon.com : Postcards from Bundanon: Very Best of Riley Lee
A great sampling of the shakuhachi stylings of Riley Lee! October 1, 2006 If music-making can be thought of as a living, breathing meditation, then it doesn’t get any cleaner and purer than this. Calm, clean, clear and minimalistic, the shakuhachi playing of Riley Lee commands the attention with its simplicity, shedding the mundane cares of the day and refocusing the mind to another place and time, or–more appropriately for a Zen art–to nowhere. To nowhen. To nothing.
I’m used to a rougher, breathier edge to shakuhachi music but Riley Lee’s technique, while still nuanced in tone and execution, sounds smooth, rich and polished–almost buttery. It’s extraordinarily soothing to listen to, whether he’s playing alone or with other musicians, as he does in some of the tracks here–with guest artists playing instruments ranging from koto and folk harp to didgeridoo, Indian tabla and electronica. After studying in Japan for nine years, in 1980 Lee became the first non-Japanese to attain the rank of grand master in the shakuhachi tradition. It shows.
“Postcards from Bundanon” offers a retrospective of Lee’s recordings, featuring ten selections from nine previous albums, and providing written context for each.
– Brianna Neal