Eri Sugai,
Mai
(Pacific Moon, 2000)

This was another one of those CDs I chose for curiosity's sake -- who could resist the pitch of Japan's Enya? I was surprised and pleased with the music which accompanied the PR, Eri Sugai's Mai.

Although certainly similar sounding to the Greta Garbo of Pop, as Enya has been named, Eri Sugai's melodies are generally more upbeat. The tunes range from majestic to danceable, and all contain the numerous overlapping recording tracks which made Enya so famous. The fluid exuberance of the music, as well as the more common Eastern pentatonic scale than a Western diatonic scale, distinguish the melodies from her Irish counterpart.

Eri Sugai was inspired by church music and American pop music -- make of that combination what you may -- and composes and records all of her music alone. Her music has been used in Japanese commercials ("Aqua" being a longer example of a commercial ditty) and other one shot venues -- thus her music is known in Japan, though her albums are few. Interestingly, only the third track actually has Japanese lyrics, though traditional instruments, such as flutes and the traditional stringed niko, also make it into the mix. Like Enya and other artists like Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, Eri Sugai frequently uses syllables and vocal sounds which do not add up to any known langauge. She instead concentrates on the instrumental quality of the voice rather than meaning of the words, and this is quite successful, the voice becoming even more a conveyer of musical meaning than the usual verbal play.

"Honen Bushi" exhibits Eri Sugai's Asian influences, most obviously via the aforementioned scale difference. Into the song also goes the electronic adjustment of voice Madonna has most recently adopted. Intriguingly, the traditional style of singing seems to sound like a possible inspiration for such electronic noodling, and thus makes the selection an interesting blend of the historical and modern.

The tracks shift from the reverential, soaring compositions like "Horizon," "Konjaku Monogatari," and "A Lullaby for Takeda" to rhythmic, enticing melodies like "Honen Bushi," "Mai" and "Rakuen." There are some impressive vocal moments on the album, most noticeably "First Love" in which Eri Sugai was attempting to imitate the Chinese stringed instrument the niko -- the result is impressive and lovely.

At that moment in the album, I was reminded of a moment on an Anonyous 4 CD in which one of the women sounds incredibly like a cello. When the CD spins through that moment, I tend to stop and marvel and the dexterity of the human voice. Eri Sugai has given me more of those moments to wonder at and enjoy.

This CD is certainly for fans of Enya, and would also appeal to devotees of such Celtic new age composers as the Danna brothers. Mai creates some evocative atmosphere, and thus allows the listener to feel the stories within them -- and in any album, that's about all a listener can ask.

[ by Robin Brenner ]
Rambles: 15 September 2001



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