Collecting a series of recordings from the Sunset-France catalogs, the Pierre Verger collections on Playasound attempt to create a sense of the traditional and the timeless, based on portraits taken by the photographer-ethnologist in the '30s. On the Japanese collection, Edition Pierre Verger: Japan -- From Kyoto to Tokyo, the focus is on three instruments that best showcase the traditional Japanese aesthetic: koto, shamisen, and shakuhachi. Sadly, there is no information given as to the provenance of the recordings so as to know if they hail from the same times and settings as the portrait. Nonetheless, the performances are all quite good. The shakuhachi takes center stage throughout much of the album, in solo settings and duets alike. The focus within these tracks is generally on pieces from the Meiji period, though they draw heavily on the older classic honkyoku pieces of the Fuke Zen sect. The playing is strong and evocative, breathy and picturesque as the need arises. For koto, there is a mix of more traditional pieces (played largely by Curt Patterson) and more contemporary pieces in lineage from Yagi Michiyo, including one special rarity: a piece involving his invention, the juschichigen (a bass koto of sorts). Unfortunately for the shamisen, it is featured in only two tracks, and in combination with a larger matsuri or noh-type ensemble on both. Admittedly, its main role is generally as accompaniment, but the solo shamisen is worth hearing as well. As a very basic sampler of traditional Japanese music, this collection fares quite well. Performances are generally excellent, recording quality is fairly good, and the focus is limited to a few of the most important instruments in the classical tradition (sparing such traditions as gagaku and noh, though they play an important role). A nice starting point for the intrepid listener. ~ Adam Greenberg, Rovi
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