The Koto is the traditional 13 string Japanese instrument and Kimio Eto is widely regarded as its master. He began training on the instrument at the age of eight and composed his first work aged eleven. Amazingly he was blind from the age of five according to the sleeve notes and this makes this record all the more astonishing.

Here on this él release we have an amalgamation of different bits of albums on one disc, “Art of the Koto” from 1962,“Sound of the Koto” from 1958 and “Koto and Flute” (with Bud Shank) from 1960 and they’re an interesting collection of tunes. I’m not going to suggest for even the briefest of moments that I understand the nuances and the virtuosity of Eto’s playing, but this album makes for an interesting and different kind of listening experience.

You get pretty much just the instrument for the entirety of the record, though the track “Yachiyo Jishi” (Lion of a Thousand Generations” does have some voice on it and of course there’s flute on the last three tunes.

There are themes of nature throughout with titles like “Sakura” (Cherry Blossoms), “Yuki No Genso” (Snow Fantasy), “Izumi” (The Spring) and “Kinuta” (Sound of the Water) and “Tanima No Suisha” (A waterwheel in a Gorge) and the music does bring to mind scenes of the natural world.

My favourite tracks on the record are the three with the flute accompaniment  and I think this is because it’s an instrument I’m more familiar with. That’s not to say this is a difficult listen, it’s not – though there was the obligatory “What the hell is this?” when I first put it on the main rig as it’s just so different to the kind of music I listen to.

If you’re feeling contemplative and in need of drifting off then pop this on, close your eyes and drift away with the music.

Stuart Smith

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