By Yumi Kurosawa
By Kabir Sehgal
Crossing over is usually something an artist does when they want to embark on a new project or collaborate with another artist. But for Yumi Kurosawa, crossing over is her aesthetic and compositional journey. Her mind searches the world for the best talent and ideas. She’s at home living on the border and between worlds – Traditional Japanese, contemporary music and diverse genres.
Originally from Morioka-city, Japan, Kurosawa moved to New York in 2002. “I wanted to blend my music with other cultures,” she explained. She plays the Koto, which is Japan’s national instrument, with more than 1300 years of history. She was born into a Koto-playing family, receiving first prizes at national Koto competitions from a young age. She’s made it something of a mission to bring the distinct sound of her beloved instrument to other artistic communities. She has collaborated with artists in the areas of Hip Hop, Ballet, opera, and even short film. As an acclaimed composer, she has been commissioned by august institutions such as Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, for example.
While Metamorphosis may be vintage Yumi, it’s a discovery for those who are uninitiated into her musical world. The album begins with Oneday Monday which connotes the busy life in New York. Carlos Maldonado’s hand percussion adds to the tumult, evoking the pitter patter of people walking on sidewalks. The piece is a terrific opening salvo of what’s to come: inviting and developing sonic landscapes.
Yumi wrote “Journey” while she was touring as an artist through several countries in South America. “This piece represents changing scenery, people, and cultures,” said Yumi. The piece is like a series of snapshots. You hear Yumi’s virtuosity throughout but set and amid various textures.
“Dawn” is a piece dedicated to the sheer beauty of Japan. The national flower of Japan is the cherry blossom or Sakura. “I was thinking about the petals of the Sakura on the mountains of Japan while composing,” reflects Yumi. It’s a gorgeous rendering of melodies and harmonies moving in concert and with dynamic contrast.
“Restless Daydream” was commissioned by Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in 2019 to celebrate a special exhibition by Tomioka Tessai, who was a painter and calligrapher in nineteenth and twentieth century Japan. The piece moves from a searching ballad to a pulsing piece with rhythmic hand percussion – which is finally enveloped by Zac Zinger’s singing saxophone solo. This piece is a microcosm of Yumi’s compositional process. “I usually get overwhelmed in my mind with many ideas. It takes time for ideas to take shape,” said Yumi. She wanted to blend ideas from several different cultures and traditions in writing this piece, which is in keeping with the journey of Tessai who was unbridled in his approach to making art.
“New Land Found” brings to mind the archetypical discoverer who reaches an unknown island. The piece begins with a searching melodic line, and it eventually hooks onto a groove. The back-and-forth between rubato and in-tempo is akin to the zig zag nature of discovery. Yumi composed “Zealla” as part of a series based on Middle Eastern scales. The minor thirds and angular lines add intrigue to the composition which is ultimately “about passion,” as she explains.
The Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art commissioned Yumi to compose “Mandala” in 2021 for an online exhibition. A Mandala is a geometric arrangement of symbols in Buddhism. It indeed evokes and represents a sacred place in this tradition. And in some cases, a Mandala is a map that represents shrines. This piece is meditative and thoughtful, which will likely settle peacefully in your mind.
“Inner Space” is the first piece that Yumi wrote. It holds a special place in her heart. It’s why she wanted to re-arrange the piece for this production, to show the full spectrum and evolution of her compositional career. “Departure” was inspired by the autumn festival in Yumi’s hometown in Japan during the Obon season (a holiday that commemorates ancestors). It’s a moving and powerful piece which showcases Yumi’s incredible virtuosity.
This album isn’t just a cross over but an arrival. Yumi Kurosawa is a genius who imagines the world she wants to hear and see. A world of unity and fusion. That she draws upon so many musical influences reveal her abundant curiosity and remarkable capacity. Yumi’s Metamorphosis is a transformative listening experience. It has been a joy to help her produce this special project.