The Gate

Joji Hirota, 1999

Capturing the mastery and rhythmic grace of this outstanding Japanese contemporary multi-instrumentalist, emotional vocals interweave with taiko drumming, shakuhachi and string quintet.

‘The Gate’ is Joji Hirota’s first solo CD with Real World. However, Joji’s work with the label started some years ago during the 1992 Recording Week, when he collaborated with Clannad’s founder Pól Brennan and Chinese flautist Guo Yue to form ‘Trísan’, an album which won the Tower Records Critics Award (New York, 1993) for Contemporary Instrumental music.

Each of the tracks on ‘The Gate’ is of vast and epic proportions. Impressive expanses of sea and sky conveyed with heart-stopping emotion, there is joy and exaltation, sorrow and yearning, resulting in a deeply meditative and breathtaking listen.

Joji’s father died shortly before he recorded The Gate, and the album includes a folk song, ‘Esashi-Oiwake’, which Joji has arranged especially as a tribute to him. Joji’s father played the shakuhachi flute and gave Joji his first flute – a small child’s version - when he was five years old. It is a very simple instrument hewn from a piece of bamboo with only five holes (four in the front, one for the thumb at the back) and amazingly expressive – the nearest an instrument can come to the human voice; it is naturally plaintive and full of sadness and yearning. First used 500 years ago by Zen Buddhists on pilgrimages, it became a more popular instrument about 150 years ago and was always played by men. Because it was the instrument Joji Hirota’s father played it has a very special significance to him, although he uses it in his music in a very untraditional way.

The track ‘Hokkai’ is a tribute to another important figure in Joji Hirota’s life. His drum teacher also died around the same time, after his son had been killed in a tragic accident trying to stop a fight. This teacher was Joji’s great master who taught him all he knew of traditional drumming and then released his pupil to follow his own path with his talents by telling him to “go your own way”. ‘Hokkai’ may be inspired by the deaths of this father and son but it is a tour de force of vitality and energy.

When asked about the significance of the gate as a symbol throughout this album, Joji Hirota replies: “At each stage of life you pass through gates to find new worlds, new music, the next musical state. I am at such a gate now; I am 50 this year – a turning point for any man. You have to be open to the future and new influences, but not shut out the past behind you.”

Reviews

  • ‘…an extravagantly lovely offering of transparent and restful sounds that is deceptively simple yet provides endless food for thought. A purely sensual but stimulating experience not to be missed.’ Songlines (UK)
  • ‘Hirota is an exciting live performer who can work up a ferocious head of steam on the Japanese taiko drum, but here he also gets to show what a big softie he is underneath, playing wistful shakuhachi flute over a luscious string quintet…’ The Wire (UK)
  • ...the overall effect being one of supreme relaxation…’. ‘A string orchestra is a cushioned setting for Hirota’s skin-tumbling and breath-issuing expression... Q Magazine (UK)