Review of Ocean Fire [12k1046]

Silent Ballet (.COM)

Anyone vaguely familiar with the works of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christopher Willits won’t need much convincing that this project is a necessary addition to his record collection. Some things in nature are just meant to be together, and these two must have been separated at birth.

Cut from an improvised session between Sakamoto and Willits in 2006, the tracks have mutated under some heavy editing and mastering before reaching their full potential on Ocean Fire. It’s no surprise that the inspiration behind the recording is the ocean itself, specifically the healing and restorative powers it contains. Musically, this couldn’t be mirrored any better. Even Tim Hecker’s recent oceanic experiment pales in comparison to the dense network of sounds created by this potent duo. In several ways, Ocean Fire is a darker portrait of sea life than Norberg; although many common themes pervade throughout both efforts, Ocean Fire reaches into deeper regions and pulls up some surprising results.

Collaborations are nothing new for either artist — Sakamoto has crossed paths with world renown experimentalists Alva Noto and Christian Fennesz, and Willits has worked with the likes of Taylor Deupree and Oren Ambarchi, among others. The stage is then set for a knockout performance, and virtually nothing stands in their way over the course of the near hour long experience. What sets this apart from previous Sakamoto collaborations is his concession on the piano. Previously Sakamoto’s instrument was a vehicle to carry his voice through the piece and to claim some individuality within a collaborative work. I’m not one to say that these past releases weren’t of value in their own merit, but this starkly contrasts with the selflessness which Sakamoto shows while playing with Willits. On Ocean Fire, the piano is processed beyond recognition and becomes another shimmering texture in the mutli-layered soundscape. In fact, through most of the release, it’s difficult to pick out one sound from the next and make a confident guess of who/what is responsible for its existence. If this cohesion is not the exact idealization of a collaboration, I’m not sure what is.

The unity of the recording cannot be overstated, for it is this quality which will ultimately win over the audience. The album glides effortless from track to track, subtly changing tones, mood, and ambient textures without drawing much attention to the process behind the scenes. The listener is thus liberated to sit back and enjoy the ever evolving spectrum of sounds completely carefree. Picking a favorite track is akin to choosing which denomination of currency is most suitable for that five million dollar lottery prize you’ve just won — any option is a winner. I’d personally have to choose “Towards Water” or “Chi-Yu,” which are a bit less dense than the surrounding tracks, but it may very well be the case that I’m an astronaut who’s uncomfortable so far under water.

U.S. fans may wish to wait for the January U.S. release on 12k (only appropriate considering Deupree is responsible for the album’s artwork), which will make this spicy import a bit more affordable. Everyone else should be a good Samaritan and purchase two copies in the holiday spirit — one to keep and one for the best stocking stuffer a friend could ask for.

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