Music for Zen Meditation and Other Joys
Find Your Center
This quietly engrossing album came about when the American jazz clarinetist Tony Scott visited Japan in the late 1950s. He was there to teach jazz and study traditional Japanese classical music, and after finishing a performance for radio, Scott encouraged the accompanying musicians to improvise with him using a common Japanese scale—the chidori—as a basis. The musician playing the koto, a harplike instrument, demurred, but the conductor, renowned composer Shinichi Yuize, embraced the challenge. Yuize hadn't done much improvising on the koto, but as he and Scott played they found a common harmonic framework. They were able to carry the spirit of the traditional music they'd just played into melodies that were created spontaneously.
Scott left Japan determined to record an album in the spirit of that impromptu meeting. In 1964, he returned to Japan and did: Throughout this set—which many consider to be the start of New Age music—Scott, Yuize, and Hozan Yamamoto, the master of the Japanese flute known as the shakuhachi, uncover music that's alive to the possibilities of the unfolding moment. The opening trio piece, "Is Not All One?," sets out a series of questioning long tones, and its contemplative drone sustains throughout everything that follows. The solo flights are few: Notice how Scott's clarinet cadenza on "San-Zen" is swept along by Yuize's one sweeping chordal flourish, with neither claiming the forefront. Similar dramatic exchanges crop up throughout, but sometimes the spirit connections are so placid and delicate they're imperceptible. They whisper a kind of Zen wisdom: Lower pulse rate, raise consciousness.
Genre: World, Japan
Released: 1964, Verve
Key Tracks: "Is Not All One?," "San-Zen (Moment of Truth)," "A Quivering Leaf, Ask the Winds."
Catalog Choice: South Pacific Jazz
Next Stop: George Winston: Autumn
After That: Keith Jarrett: Spirits
Book Pages: 683–684