Bonobo’s Ark 2023
Poised between Japan and England, respectable specialist in contemporary sounds hits the mark and gets away with it.
Experimentation has always been at the melodic heart of Yumi Hara’s art, her frequently intense Oriental minimalism bolstered by the London-based musician’s esteemed British collaborators, but this time she’s taken this intrepid adventure too far, playing around with rhythms rather than melodies, and, in doing so, delivered the most accessible album of her long career. Still, to call “Groove Study” a simple opus would mean to underestimate its deceptive effortlessness, best expressed in the record’s visual cover, layered in a progressive fashion, and its two sonic covers – although such a term is hardly appropriate for classical performances, Ms. Hara’s oeuvre exists in the avant-rock context – the brief dives into Arnold Schoenberg’s “Fragment Eines Klavierstück” and “Slice” from Lindsay Cooper’s cache of gems, both shorter-than-a-minute cuts, where quite much is going on, supporting Yumi’s larger tapestries. The aural pictures in which time signatures often shift to a surreal effect.
However, if rendering “The Wedding” as a reggae in 7/8 may come across as an infectious skank-skid beyond the electronically tinctured sunset, the Rising Sun sensibilities are what “Once Around The Earth” – the platter’s other song, with Hara’s delicate voice fluttering above the medieval grounds alongside Tim Hodgkinson’s clarinets before her harp and synthesizer reveal a different aspect to these cosmic comforts – must be made of. But while opener “Orlyonok” (“Eaglet” in Russian) is rather gloomy yet effervescent, Chris Cutler’s drums driving West African figures under Yumi’s ivories – a heady Mixolydian mélange of pipe organ, laid down in a church, clavichord and piano – and Toshiaki Sudoh’s bass to create a Gothic dance of a tribal stripe, the tripartite “Hibernal” suite drowns the four-to-the-floor beat in a frighteningly funky wave of stygian keyboards and violin. And then there’s the sprawling “Groove Study Giga Mix” in which the lady’s six pianos explore the possibilities of rubato as applied to Brazilian samba and Japanese children’s ditties, letting Cutler’s percussive track emulate drum ‘n’ bass intensity.
The results are as academic as they are entertaining, which is a rare thing… but Yumi Hara is that rare an artist who always has some pleasant surprise up her sleeve. A masterpiece.