Wu Man’s New Album “Flow” with Kojiro Umezaki, Out February 19
Wu Man, “the world’s finest player of the pipa” (The New York Times), is joined by one of her Silkroad Ensemble bandmates, shakuhachi virtuoso Kojiro Umezaki, on a new album, Flow (流芳), released by In a Circle Records (ICR). The album is currently available for pre-order on Bandcamp (digital and physical) and will be available Friday, February 19, through Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and other major outlets.
Drawing upon folk tunes, contemporary styles, elements of improvisation, and the timbral interplay between these two ancient Chinese and Japanese instruments, the solo and duo works on this album are meant to evoke the changes of season in a traditional Eastern garden.
Wu Man said:
“The Chinese pipa and Japanese shakuhachi are two of the most important and recognizable instruments in the East Asian musical tradition. They both date back to ancient times, and each has its own unique story, sound world, performance techniques, and expressive charm… The shakuhachi has a distinctive sonority that always reminds me of autumn in Japan, while the lute-like pipa distinguishes itself through its characteristic tremolos and unique style of melodic ornamentation, among other qualities. Together, these two ancient musical instruments create a musical experience unlike any other.”
The music was originally composed by Ms. Wu and Mr. Umezaki for a video installation by Beijing-born visual artist Tang Qingnian.
The two artists explain:
“Not far from downtown Los Angeles lies Liu Fang Yuan, a spectacular 15-acre classical-style garden inspired by those in Suzhou, China, that is part of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. In 2019, The Huntington commissioned Tang Qingnian to create a video installation [Fragrant Rhythms: The Seasons of Liu Fang Yuan] to commemorate the garden’s latest phase of expansion. The video, created as part of the Cheng Family Foundation Visiting Artist program, celebrates scenes from all four seasons in the garden, plus its ever-present landscaping of bamboo.”
“I listened to these songs alone. And if you’ll indulge me a personal disclosure, I listened to them after a particularly awkward COVID-era in-person date in which I discovered, not entirely to my surprise, that my social skills had atrophied during the pandemic winter. I slinked into my kitchen and stood there, staring at the humming refrigerator, as my heart launched a rebellion against my ribcage. I needed to talk to someone. And, by listening to Wu Man and Kojiro Umezaki’s album, that’s more or less what I did.”
“I asked both Wu and Umezaki why the album so successfully conjures the seasons even to a listener, like myself, who is only passingly acquainted with the pipa and shakuhachi traditions. Each cited the lineage of the instrument. Pipa taps into something old, Wu told me, an accumulated knowledge: “Through all the thousands of years, it has developed a distinctive language.” Umezaki pointed to the shakuhachi’s storied employment as a Buddhist breathing device. The album may articulate the seasons clearly because its instruments, in the hands of two honest guides, have experienced many of them.”
“In restricting the instrumentation to two instruments only, Flow allows for an enhanced appreciation of both the artistry of the musicians and the beauty of the sounds the Chinese pipa and Japanese shakuhachi are capable of producing. Man and Umezaki are ambassadors for their respective instruments who have shown they have as much a place in contemporary music as traditional—even if both carry with them thousands of years of history.”
10 Best New Albums – June 2021 | 10. FLOW
“While both instruments are highly distinctive and popular in their respective traditions, they are seldom heard together. A surprise, considering that the two complement each other beautifully – the bright, rich tone of the pipa provides an impeccable harmonic grounding for the breathy overtones of the shakuhachi. This is bolstered by the pair’s clearly established working rapport.”
“… a succinct yet charming collaboration.”