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The International Shakuhachi Society

World of Zen Music, The - Saji

World of Zen Music, The - Saji

"Shakuhachi honkyoku."

Nakamura Akikazu
Denon - COCJ-30465

Track Title Kanji Length Shakuhachi Shamisen Koto
1   Saji 薩慈 07'28 Nakamura Akikazu

This is a piece which was introduced into the Itchoken komuso temple at Hakata in Kyushu by a monk named Shinshichi. It is the most dramatic piece in the repertoire. It was eventually transmitted to Kyoto and to the Kanto region where variants of the original piece became known Aji no kyoku and Ajikan respectively.

Three versions of the piece were performed at the Itchoken, differentiated according to the classification commonly used in Japanese calligraphy and the performing arts into shin (orthodox), gyo (intermediate) and so (unorthodox). These versions are known respectively as Bosashi (or Yamagoe), Yurisashi (or Saji) and Nerisashi (or Daibosatsu).

The title of the piece is taken from the Sanskrit syllable sa, which symbolises the manifestation of bodhisattvas. The music is thus intended to depict the rigorous austerities undergone by an aspirant until his emergence as a bodhisattva.

The shakuhachi became internationally known during the 1960s primarily on account of a performance of this piece by Watazumidoso. However, owing to its enormous technical difficulty, the piece has been only very rarely performed over the past three decades. Akikazu Nakamura has now revived Sashi and added it to his repertoire. He uses the
technique of circular breathing to enhance the dramatic and technical qualities of the music.
2   Tsuru no Sugomori (Don't know which version) 鶴の巣籠 07'18 Nakamura Akikazu

This piece begins with a graphic depiction of a pair of cranes flying through the sky at daybreak. They build a nest, breed, care for their young, eventually take leave of their offspring, and finally prepare to meet their deaths. This depiction of the whole life-cycle of cranes is considered to be a musical allegory imbued with the Buddhist ideas of compassion and sadness.

The performance makes use of a variety of techniques unique to the shakuhachi such as shakes and tremolos (korokoro, karakara) , glottal trills (tamane) and flutter-tonguing (tabane). These are used to imitate the flapping of the wings and the cries of the parent cranes and their chicks. They may be used in combination or together with multi-phonics to evoke the image of the cranes. At the climax of the piece, the korokoro shake technique is combined with tamane glottal trills and multi-phonics consisting of four or five different pitches in order to depict the cries and wing-flapping of the two parents and their chicks all at the same time.

In the second half of the piece a mysterious atmosphere is invoked by the appearance of an 'altered' scale as the foundation for a melody called ko-wakare (the separation of parents from their young).

Tsuru no sugomori is the title of many different pieces from all parts of Japan. There are in fact more than twenty pieces which bear this title, although the number far exceeds this if variants are also included.

The version of Tsuru no sugomori featured on this disc is that associated with the Shoganken temple in Iwate Prefecture. Of the many pieces bearing the title, this is the most virtuosic and possesses the most complex structure.
3   Hon Shirabe 本調 03'44 Nakamura Akikazu

The word shirabe is used today with the same meaning as melody, but it derives from the word meaning 'to investigate' (shiraberu) and thus implies the idea of investigating the relationships between oneself and the cosmic state in which one is located. This explains why pieces with the term shirabe in their titles are often performed as introductions to other pieces. There are many pieces in the shakuhachi repertoire with titles including the term shirabe, but the present piece is the most fundamental of these pieces, as is suggested by the fact that its title means 'original shirabe'.

Hon-shirabe was transmitted from the Fudaiji temple in Hamamatsu into the Seien school of shakuhachi by the school's founder, Kanetomo Seien (1818-95), although the piece is said to be almost identical to a piece entitled Choshi transmitted at the Myoanji temple in Kyoto.

The piece starts with a simple motif featuring repetitions of a single pitch. The pitch gradually rises until a passage referred to as tsuguri is reached. This term derives from the idea of 'succeeding to' the previous tone colour. The principle involved in this case is to play pitches using fingerings generally used for the pitches a tone or a semitone higher, i.e. by lipping down the pitch. This results in a subdued tone quality with few harmonics and also contributes to the contrast between sound and silence in the music. The piece comes to a close after a return to the motif with which it began. In terms of tone colour, therefore, the piece has a ternary structure with music featuring restrained use of overtones being set between music which employs overtones to the full. This is paralleled by a loud-soft-loud structure. In Western music, such a ternary structure applying principally on the level of tone colour and dynamics would be highly unusual.

Another feature of this piece is the emphasis on the dynamic and austere notion of dynamic contrast between sound and silence, the sense of timing known in Japanese aesthetics as ma.

The very simplicity of the melody makes this a difficult piece to perform, and it is considered for this reason to be a touchstone of the ability of a shakuhachi-player, On the spiritual level, the standard of performance demonstrated by someone playing this piece is considered to reflect his stage of development on the path to Buddhist enlightenment.
4   Murasaki Reibo 紫鈴慕 03'41 Nakamura Akikazu

This piece has traditionally been attributed to the Muromachi Period Zen priest Ikkyu (1394-1481), who was himself a master of the shakuhachi and is considered to have laid the foundations for the subsequent development of the komusu and their music. The instrument used in Ikkyu's time was the short end-blown vertical flute known as the hitoyogiri. As well as performing and composing for the instrument, Ikkyu also wrote several verses extolling the merits of the shakuhachi such as the following:

Shakuhachi wa
Hitoyo to koso
Omoishi ni
Ikuyo ka oi no
Tomo to narikemu

This shakuhachi of mine
May well bear the name
'Single Night'
But now that many nights have passed
It has become the companion of my old age

The piece employs a complex scale combination based on the miyako-bushi (with C as the starting pitch, a pentatonic scale consisting of the pitches C, D flat, F, G, A flat) and min’yo (again with C as the starting pitch, a pentatonic scale consisting of the pitches C, E flat, F, G, B flat) scales. An intriguing musical atmosphere is created by the use of different scales in ascending and descending forms.
5   San'an 産安 08'46 Nakamura Akikazu

The title of this piece is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit terms samadhi, meaning concentration on a single object in the context of meditation, or samaya, referring to the fundamental vows taken by Buddhas and bodhisattvas when they first aspire to enlightenment. The Sanskrit term changed into the Japanese form sanya and then into the form san’an.

On the musical level, San'an is thought to have developed out of a piece entitled Jinbo sanya. It bears considerable similarities with the piece Sanya from the Echigo region (modern Niigata Prefecture) and Sanya sugagaki, a piece transmitted in the Nezasa-ha (one of the original branches of the komuso tradition; also known as the Kinpu-ryu).

There is a legend surrounding this piece that if an expectant woman passes rice through a shakuhachi on which this piece has just been played and then cooks the rice and eats it, she will be assured of a smooth delivery. Watazumidoso believed that the piece expressed the pains of creation and, by extension, the realm in which the spirit can find peace.

Of the many pieces in the komuso repertoire, San’an has the most complex and subtle melody and technical requirements and is considered to be the most profound.
6   Shika no Tône (Kinko Ryû) 鹿の遠音 10'07 Nakamura Akikazu

This piece portrays deer calling to one another across a valley. It is a highly unusual piece within the context of the komuso repertoire as a whole; while solo performance is the rule in the music of the komuso, this piece is generally played as a shakuhachi duet.

The piece consists of two main sections. In the first section the two instruments play separate melodies, and a climax is reached centering on tempo and dynamics. In the second section, the two instruments play in unison until shortly before the end of the piece, when they play completely different melodies which lead the piece to its final climax.

In comparison with most other pieces in the shakuhachi repertoire, Shika no tone incorporates a large number of wide leaps and sudden changes from tone colours with a broad overtone structure to those with few overtones. This results in a highly tense and distinctive sense of rhythmic and temporal contrast (ma).

The version of Shika no tone presented on this disc is that associated with the Kinko school of performance and its full title is Yobikaeshi shika no tone (The far sounds of deer calling to one another). The piece is said to have been learnt by Kurosawa Kinko (1710-71), founder of the Kinko school, from a komuso priest named Ikkeishi. Different pieces with the same title have been transmitted in the Myoan Shinpo and Myoan Taizan schools in Kyoto.
7   Shingetsu 心月 05'49 Nakamura Akikazu

This piece is thought to be based on a piece entitled Yamato choshi transmitted by Tani Kyochiku (1882-1950), but its pervasive mood of tranquility and profundity marks it off distinctly from this other piece.

Watazumidoso described Shingetsu as reflecting the ability of the enlightened spirit to embrace the whole of creation and to transcend dualism: both tranquility and dynamism are here transcended, and it is this transcedental quality which the performer must strive to express.

This is the quietest and most subdued piece in the komuso shakuhachi repertoire.

The International Shakuhachi Society - 2018