Picture Dreams Review

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

– 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!

– Brianna Neal

Maui Morning

From the Honolulu Star Bulletin (February 2001):
Duo takes favorites in new direction

Hula Records International

ISLAND EXPATRIATE Riley Lee and Maui-based Jeff Peterson introduce a fresh note in island music as they blend the familiar sound of slack-key guitar with that of the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute). Lee (shakuhachi) and Peterson (guitar) play as equal partners in reinterpreting popular island melodies ranging from “Kawika” to “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u”.

The ambience is mellow enough to call the music “New Age” but the textures of the guitar and flute create a pleasant, natural organic sound that much “New Age” stuff lacks. The duo is clearly taking Hawaiian music in a fresh and imaginative new direction that has worldwide appeal.

Extensive annotation makes this a perfect introduction to the artists and the musical traditions they represent. Astute packaging ensures that even casual record store bin browsers can recognisze the uniqueness of this album.

– John Berger
From the Honolulu Advertiser (February 2001):

RILEY LEE IS Hawai’i’s best-known shakuhachi artist; Jeff Peterson is a guitarist with a classical and jazz background. Together, the bamboo flute and the ki ho’alu guitar yield a very poetic, very resourceful sound, evoking romantic and rhapsodic images of the Island lifestyle.

The title tune is Peterson’s composition, a subtle yet vibrant ear canvas of Maui images of sunrises over Haleakala, of rain forests in Hana, of lapping waves at Makena. It’s a beaut.

– Wayne Harada

Buddha’s Dream

From the All Music Guide:

Riley Lee’s Buddha’s Dream reaffirms his position as one of the West’s most gifted shakuhachi flute artists – not that it needed reaffirming.

The first non-Japanese shakuhachi dai shihan (grand master) returns with ten more caressing, reflective pieces, including “Bubbling Fountain”, “Spring Shower”, “Melting Snow”, and “As the Water Flows.” Ideal for meditation, studying, or just relaxing, Buddha’s Dream is just as captivating to new listeners as it is to Lee’s many fans.

– Heather Phares

Autumn Field

From the All Music Guide:

Riley Lee is one of the most prolific and probably one of the best Western shakuhachi players, having recorded more than 30 CDs. This CD is the fourth of a series of seven dedicated to traditional Zen music for solo shakuhachi.

The most striking aspect of this album is the quality of the recording; it was recorded in the reverberation room of the National Acoustics Laboratory in Sydney, Australia, giving the performance a “grandeur” and a presence seldom heard from the recording studio. This is meditation music in its purest sense.

Highly recommended.

– Bruno Deschenes

Wild Honey Dreaming

From the All Music Guide:

Many musicians feel free to include the snarly sounds of the didgeridoo on their albums. Few, however, can claim to be a master of the instrument. Wild Honey Dreaming combines the efforts of two musical masters, Matthew Doyle on the didgeridoo and Riley Lee on the Japanese shakuhachi flute.

Lee began studying the difficult instrument in 1970 and in 1980 became the first non-Japanese to attain the rank of dai shihan (grand master). Doyle has also been similarly honored. In 1985, at the age of 15, he was invited to join Australia’s Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre; he studied aboriginal music and dance throughout Australia and was awarded the position of Aboriginal Artist in Residence with the NSW Department of School Education. Both live in Sydney.

The didgeridoo is an ancient wind instrument known for its deep, snarling, primordial sounds; the shakuhachi flute is not as old and produces notes known for their meditative and mind-clearing qualities. Played together, the sounds can move body, mind, and soul.

The didg can create a resonant cavern for the cold wind of the shakuhachi. Doyle, with his circular breathing technique, can offer an endless drone for the melodies of the flute. The drone is emphasized and buzzed on the title cut; you’ll swear you’ve become a bee. On “Spirit Dance: The Wind of Change”, Lee is quite acrobatic with his melody; his “Traveller’s Song” solo is the essence of tone purity. Lee can also create a drone (and bend notes as well), but the effect on “Ghost Gums and the Moon” is smoother and more haunting than the sound of the didgeridoo.

On “Desert Stars,” the two trade musical phrases; a duet between an elephant and a nightingale. “Space Time Transformation” is the spaciest of the tracks and includes synthesizer tones by Michael Atherton. Here, the flute melody travels through a gauntlet of pulsing didg growls while synth organ tones slip around and bend time.

The album ends with an extended “aum” tone…and a snort for good luck. An extraordinary immersion in cosmic tones.

– Carol Wright


From the All Music Guide:

Previously released in 1991 on cassette-only under Evening Mist, Sanctuary: Music from a Zen Garden from multi-talented flutist Riley Lee is a stunning look at the musician’s dazzling skill of playing the shakuhachi.

The overall sonic quality on Sanctuary is enjoyable, certainly a splendid and solid look at Lee’s impeccable and ever-changing mastery.

– MacKenzie Wilson

From amazon.com:

As peaceful and enchanting as a sunset’s afterglow on a cloudless summer evening, the gentle music of Riley Lee (playing shakuhachi flute, an instrument traditionally used by Japanese monks) and Bert Moon (on koto, a 13-string zither) stirs a warm, caressing breeze that calms the spirit and stills the mind.

This flute, traditionally played by Japanese monks, bellows low and captures a deep mood throughout the release. It’s enchanting, yet mysterious as Lee frolics with the ambience of sound itself. Pitches are light and flowing, soaring and brooding; an infinite calming presence.

Lee’s elegant, prolonged tones are gentle to the point of weightlessness, residing in comfortable low and middle ranges without sounding a shrill note. Moon, though not credited on the recording’s front cover, admirably handles an egalitarian role throughout the disc’s 61 minutes, handsomely complementing Lee’s cerebral textures with dignified, unobtrusive accents.

Listeners raised on Occidental music will find little alien about Lee and Moon’s graceful, unhurried duets, ideal for periods of restfulness or contemplation.

– Terry Wood