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Album Review

If a musician is playing a traditional ethnic instrument, that doesn't necessarily mean that he/she is doing something traditional with it. There are Indian musicians who use the time-honored sitar in pop settings alongside electric bass and keyboards; there are neo-Celtic rockers who see no reason why their bagpipes cannot share the stage with a crunching electric guitar. And similarly, instrumentalist Riley Lee has been demonstrating that the shakuhachi doesn't need to be confined to traditional Japanese settings. Lee is quite capable of playing traditional Japanese music — he's certainly done it in the past — but Floating World doesn't fall into that category. Primarily an album of duets with Australian harpist Marshall McGuire, this 2004 release favors a quiet, gently reflective blend of Asian music, European classical and new age. Some of the material that Lee embraces was written by Japanese composers, including Yoshiyuki Kozu's "Sacramental Lullaby" and two pieces by Rando Fukada ("Deep Night Cicada" and "Dream of the Moon Flower"). But many of them come from the European classical tradition, and Lee successfully turns his attention to the compositions of Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Faure, Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Some Euro-classical purists will complain that what Lee does with Satie's tender Gymnopedie (all three parts) and Ravel's Pavane de la Belle au Bois Dormant isn't strictly traditional, but then, it isn't meant to be. Lee is a multiculturalist, and the idea is to put a fresh, individualistic spin on these pieces; Floating World isn't meant to be a pure Euro-classical disc any more than it is meant to be an album of strictly traditional Japanese music. Floating World isn't Lee's most essential album; it is, however, a respectable addition to his catalog and a pleasing reminder of his willingness to take risks.

Floating World, Marshall McGuire
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