• Lee’s 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.
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • 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….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.
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • Affecting, moving, admirable, the performing techniques involved, especially the breath control, defy belief.
    International Herald Tribune
  • ..a spellbinding performance of the traditional San’an….The fascinating aspect of this ancient art is that the extraneous by-products of tone production, such as breathiness, overblown and split notes are part of the expressive lexicon, something which has only been exploited in our tradition in jazz and by the modernist avant-garde.
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • …atmospheric, even spell-binding music.
    Echoes of eternal time…haunting.
    New York Times
  • He is, by any standards, a remarkable musician with an amazing command of fractional inflections of tones, achieved with a wide range of finger and breath attacks on every note.
    … Beautifully evocative sounds.
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • Lee could serve as any performer’s model in his ability to capture the attention of his audience immediately and straightforwardly.
    The Australian
  • …a superb musician and an innovative and prolific composer. The shakuhachi is a transcendentally beautiful instrument and Lee’s playing has an emotional and meditative power which overwhelms his obvious technical expertise.
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • Riley Lee’s tonal control is inescapably uncanny. Most assuredly a master-player of the shakuhachi.
    24 Hours (ABC Radio Guide)
  • …quietly powerful
    Newport Daily News, USA
  • …outstanding eloquence on the shakuhachi
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • Lee’s shakuhachi music has an unusually soft, lyrical sound, which offers a feeling of meditative beauty.
    Japan Times, Tokyo
  • …Strangely haunting… seductive
    Honolulu Star Bulletin
  • … Exotic sound
  • His natural musical sensitivity combined with a carefully nurtured technique make him an exciting and delightful performer.
    Honolulu Academy of Arts
  • Riley Lee played…with unutterably subtle sensibility
    Sydney Morning Herald
    20 April 2004
    Music of Japan: Karak Percussion with Riley Lee
    Judith Wright Centre, 16 April 2004
    Reviewed by Gillian Wills

RILEY Lee is a mesmerising figure on stage. His commanding presence demands attention and inspires confidence.

  • Opening the concert that explored the aesthetic of Japanese music, the shakuhachi player, dressed in a Zen Buddhist priest outfit, stunned the audience in his introductory solo Sagari ha with an amazing display of overblown and split notes, trills, harmonics and percussive breath techniques. Manipulating finely shaded reiterations of single tones, he demonstrated a superb mastery of the very particular and haunting mellow sound of this instrument.In Mitsue, Karak Percussion showed how well the blend of this traditional, spiritual Japanese flute integrates with the marimba and vibraphone. Changes in metre were frequent in this minimalist-tinged piece, and the percussion duo segued effortlessly into new sections. The swirling interplay of shifting cross-rhythmic textures high-lighted unity and nourished Riley’s now brighter, energised sound expressed through a colourful palette of dynamics.Kuribayashi’s E-mu was originally written for the koto, a 13-stringed instrument which is strummed or plucked. These techniques were translated effectively in this arrangement for marimba. The beautifully shaped and fluid shakuhachi calls and pliable phrasing of the marimba’s responses established Riley and Joyce as a musically responsive partnership and was the highlight of the first five performances. Tentative, overlong introductions interrupted the momentum and contrasted awkwardly with the slick precise professionalism of Karak’s playing. However, in Gravity Whispers, the energy picked up with a refreshing change of timbre after the bland harmonies and the lulling, repetitive cycles of accompanying ostinato patterns that dominated the first half. Joyce’s compelling waves of bongo playing provided a pulsating undercurrent for Riley’s full, piercing tone in a more strident, urgent outpouring of expression and the intertwining meandering vibraphone lines signalled a deeper engagement. There followed some special performances including Azuma Jishi, a plaintive, coaxing shakuhachi solo in which Riley displayed staggering breath control. Karak Percussion were featured as virtuosic soloists in an extensive and stormy drumming display and this was particularly exciting in the snatches of sudden silences and sharp and incisive plunges into new articulations of rhythm. Some of the new sounds and tonal explorations discussed earlier emerged, including a combination of gong reson-ance and driving bongo grooves sprinkled with metallic sound stops to which Riley stylishly improvised, slicing through the layers on the piercing, high-pitched yokobue. Performances varied in intensity, energy and extroversion despite the con-summate skill of the players. A greater injection of variety in musical language, a more imaginative distribution of solos and an expanded range of instrumental colour would have lifted this concert to a consistently arresting level of delivery. Courier Mail