Akira Kosemura: In The Dark Woods

In The Dark Woods might well be the most stylistically diverse set Akira Kosemura has issued to date. Past releases have at times emphasized one particular facet of his artistry, whether it be intimate solo piano pieces or elaborate strings-enriched settings. Yet while the new collection supplements samplings of those styles with others, the seventeen-track CD is unified by the Tokyo-born composer's signature melodic sensibility. Regardless of whether a composition is arranged for solo piano or presented as an electronic soundscape, his distinctive handling of melody always brands the material as his and his alone.

At first the album's thematic focal points of serenity and darkness might seem contradictory, yet they're reconciled if one thinks of an embryo that while developing in the darkness of a womb is soothed by the steady beating of its mother's heart. Certainly darkness is a dominant thematic dimension of the album, but it's leavened by the intimacy and delicacy of the music.

Some of the material already will be known to Kosemura listeners, with “DNA” and the two “Inside River” miniatures featured on an EP released on 1631 Recordings earlier this year. They've not lost any lustre for re-surfacing on the full-length, however, especially when they're accompanied by a generous amount of new material. Much of the recording is performed with great sensitivity by Kosemura on acoustic piano, with a small number of pieces featuring him playing electronics and other keyboards; further to that, the deeply elegiac (and very Michael Nyman-like) title track is performed by strings alone, though it's followed by a piano rendering of its themes under the title “Letter From a Distance.” Such differences in arrangement add variety to what otherwise would be a solo acoustic piano recording.

The opening “DNA” entrances as powerfully as it did when it made its initial EP appearance. Using a soft, propulsive set of arpeggiated patterns as a metronomic foundation, Kosemura uses a number of disparate elements—an hypnotically recurring triangle ting and softly whispering synth textures, to cite two—as a soothing backdrop to an elegant piano lead. “Sphere” emphasizes his electronic side and even sees him indulging a jazzier persona with a lightly swinging electric piano solo; as enticing as that combination is, it's bettered by a coda radiating with synthesizer-generated gleam. Like many, Kosemura would appear to have developed a Twin Peaks fascination, as evidenced by “Dedicated to Laura Palmer,” a five-minute homage that melodically conveys a faux poignancy reminiscent of the show's own main theme.

Emblematic of the character of the solo piano settings, “Resonance” is as hushed as a quiet Sunday afternoon; elsewhere the lovely, ten-minute improvisation “Stillness of the Holy Place” is as reverential as its title implies. In many such cases, the music's intimate character is amplified by the sound of the piano itself, whose audible action conveys the impression of an instrument time-worn and dusty. In keeping with such a special collection, Kosemura has devoted a great deal of care to the presentation of the release. Not only does it house its CD package within a handsome case, it augments the disc with a DVD containing five music videos, three of them for tracks on In The Dark Woods, plus a full-colour booklet displaying stills from the videos.

October 2017