ironomi: niji
Kitchen. Label

Can we please confer some kind of award on Kitchen. for the superior quality of its product presentation? Every release, it seems, is as much a work of visual art as a collection of music, and ironomi's niji (‘rainbow' in English) is no exception. Issued in an edition of 1000 copies, the physical release's three CDs arrive housed within a custom-designed folio complemented by letter-pressed text and a holographic foil cover whose refraction produces prismatic colour effects that mirror the multi-hued character of the ambient-classical group's music. Though the sounds are ironomi's, it's Kitchen.'s Ricks Ang (and ASPIDISTRAFLY member) who deserves praise for the art direction and design of the release.

The strong impression immediately established by its presentation carries over to the music. On their seventh ironomi album (and their first since 2010's sketch), pianist Junya Yanagidaira and guitarist/programmer Yu Isobe are joined by a number of collaborators on the 164-minute release's twelve tracks, many of them Kitchen. associates. Though each piece is distinguished from the others by the guests' different instruments, Yanagidaira's quietly dazzling piano playing acts as the music's unifying core. Regardless of whether contrabass, piano, koto, guitar, violin, saxophone (tenor and soprano), or even water (yes, water) appears as the extra voice, ironomi's music never loses its graceful essence when the material flows with such natural purity. Peacefulness and tranquility permeate niji, and with the music so serene the listener experiences little difficulty cozying up to tracks that sometimes last as long as twenty minutes.

The typical ironomi composition isn't a formally structured piece containing anything so conventional as melodic motifs, verses, or choruses. Instead, each one unfolds organically as a meditative setting whose mood the group handily sustains for extended durations. On paper, the piano-guitar-laptop combination suggests a sound pitched halfway between acoustic and electronic zones, but on niji at least, Isobe's laptop treatments are downplayed, the focal point primarily Yanagidaira's piano.

Certainly one of the standouts on the release is the track featuring ASPIDISTRAFLY (April Lee and Ricks Ang) for the stirring vocal presence Lee brings to the piece; throughout this entrancing meditation, she complements the piano playing with the purity of her voice and delicacy of her delivery. A familiar name in Kitchen. circles, haruka nakamura (who has collaborated with ironomi on numerous occasions) plays classical guitar on two long-form pieces that distill the project's peaceful tone into a compact forty-minute snapshot. In these pieces, the pianist and guitarist repeatedly switch back and forth between soloist and accompanist—at least to the degree that one can apply such clear-cut determinations to the recording's fluid and ever-evolving soundworld.

Elsewhere, Coupie (yukki and Cobi) contributes guitar to a lilting meditation, and the addition of ARAKI Shin's breathy tenor saxophone to ironomi's music makes for a particularly becalmed result; by comparison, the heavenly piece on which Rie Nemoto's plaintive violin appears turns especially lovely when her playing is presented in multi-layered form. The third disc's piano, soprano saxophone, and contrabass settings stretch out even more than the eight on the first two, with the oceanic ripples of the piano playing reaching dazzling, almost ecstatic heights during these concluding performances.

Given the free-flowing character of the music, it doesn't surprise to learn that each of niji's compositions arose in real-time as an improvisation and that the best takes were selected and left in largely undoctored form for the release. Time and time again, ironomi allows its wistful music to breathe and develop according to its nature and was fortunate to collaborate with guests who clearly shared the group's sensibility during their respective recording sessions.

March 2016