Since 2006, Chihei Hatakeyama has delivered album after album of thoughtful, exquisitely crafted ambient music, a series of mirages that, although inspired by what he really sees, really only flourish in the mind.
Chihei Hatakeyama :: Alone by the Sea (White Paddy Mountain)
Chihei Hatakeyama is Alone by the Sea on his first physical release for his newish White Paddy Mountain label. Three versions of the title track span the first half hour of the album, a spiritual maritime journey inspired by a Medieval Buddhist tradition, prepossessingly evoked with stirring loops, violin on the first, soprano saxophone on the second, an entire string section on the third, all echoing between the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky. Hatakeyama extracted these sounds from a single slab of bargain basement vinyl, which asserts its pocked presence more forthrightly in the crescendoed, sail-rippling second half hour “In Dreams,” though the delicate texturing might just as well have come off the brush of a master watercolourist. In a discography rife with time-stands-still moments (Saunter, Ghostly Garden), Alone by the Sea stands out as a clear and present forever in which to abide.
Chihei Hatakeyama :: Bare Strata (Whereabouts)
On Bare Strata, Hatakeyama is alone by another sea, this one off the coast of Australia, where he discovered the stark white and aquamarine charm of Cairns Beach. On the half-hour title track, he braids sunshine and salt air, weaving a sandswept mat of being there. “Bare Strata” culminates with a shimmer, as if the Southern Cross were shedding its stars. “Returning” foreshadows Alone by the Sea (I suspect he may have used the same piece of vinyl), though the violin is allowed to show off more of its virtuosity in this bassier, rumblier atmosphere.
Opitope :: Physis (Spekk)
Opitope is Hatakeyama’s ongoing project with Tomoyoshi Date and Physis only its second strictly duo album after 2007’s Hau. Four extended “imaginative stories” told with piano, guitar and furtive electronics, Physis harnesses the invisible generative power of nature by taking a cue from its glorious, deceptively chance patterns. Relaunching the Spekk label after two years of silence in a beautifully decorated large, wide sleeve, Physis was recorded in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake of 2011, and is as much an act of consolation, recovery and new growth as a heartfelt aesthetic embrace of fragile but eternal Japan through all four of its seasons.