Haco/Sakamoto Hiromichi
Ash In The Rainbow

(USA: Detector)
(Europe: ReR)

In 1984 - the year ReR released an album by an unknown group from Japan called After Dinner - not many Japanese musicians were known in the western world. Hence, the curiosity factor. But After Dinner - the record, which assembled materials that had been released in Japan not long before - proved to be much more than a novelty item: the melodies were fresh, many different genres were visited, with no danger of pastiche nor of being "generic"; there was a lot of intelligent studio work; and Haco's versatile voice and her songs. After some European tours and a second album - Paradise Of Replica ('89), more direct and immediate than its predecessor - the group split. (Both albums have been re-released with additional material, the first one now being titled Editions.)

I had a lot of expectations about Haco's first solo CD (Haco, 1995), but in the end I didn't like it a lot: some rhythmic solutions I regarded as impersonal, while for the most part the new songs didn't seem to improve on what she had done before. And when her second solo CD (Happiness Proof, 1999) came out I decided to pass.

So when I prepared myself to listen to Ash In The Rainbow - Haco's new collaborative effort with cello player and multi instrumentalist Hiromichi Sakamoto - I didn't know what to expect, nor could I be suspected of partiality. I'm pretty glad I can say that the new CD is really excellent. From what I understand (the CD cover doesn't say much, and the informations I've found on the Web are a bit sketchy) in 2001 Haco listened to Zero-shiki, Hiromichi Sakamoto's 1999 solo album. Taking that record as a starting point, she proceeded to compose some new melodies, lyrics and vocal parts, then she did a lot of cut & paste computer work. Having never listened to the original album I can't say more.

Ash In The Rainbow is a beautiful and not at all difficult album; extremely well thought-out, very clear, totally uncluttered, it's one of those albums one is afraid of ruining while trying to describe it. Some tracks appear to inhabit a fresh, almost "neoclassical" dimension (listen to Ash In The Rainbow and Zero Hills - and check Drunken Strings, with its treatment of the beautiful melodic phrase that starts the latter), while others (Moonfish Dance, Airhead, Channeling) have a more "modern" atmosphere, with a lot of treated vocals. The closing track - Deep Sky - made me and the vocoder friends again, the effect being such an integral part of the track's poetic mood. Hot Road, with its multiple vocals and its agitated snare drum, is the only track where I found big traces of After Dinner.

Era Mari, who's very good on various percussive instruments, is the only other member outside the duo. Hiromichi Sakamoto plays the cello both in soft and scratchy ways, and employs other instruments such as the pianica (?) and the musical box. Haco's sound design offers very good results, but it's her impressive compositional intelligence that makes those complex vocal parts sound natural and simple.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003

CloudsandClocks.net | March 15, 2003