When first discovering a vibrant, visionary new artist, there’s always the tendency to connect his or her artistry to others who have captured our musical hearts in the past. When I started to listen to composer, pianist and drummer Masa Takumi’s multiple shades of amazing Domo Records debut Heritage, I immediately began connecting his multi-hued East meets West, funky contemporary jazz meets transcendent new age fusion to two of my favorite all-time (mostly) instrumental artists.
Takumi’s playful, plucky way with the koto – a stringed instrument that is the national instrument of his native Japan reminds me of the gorgeous work of June Kuramoto in the legendary Asian-influenced jazz/world music band Hiroshima. His sense of soaring, high energy piano and keyboard adventure – and ability to artfully blend intense, earthbound rhythms with transcendent flights of fancy and rich sonic detail - brings to mind the expansive 30+ year works of keyboardist/composer Keiko Matsui.
Beyond these obvious comparisons, however, the Japanese born, Los Angeles based Takumi – after three previous independently released albums, Stars Falling (2016), Deep Down (2017) and the solo piano collection On Your Side (2018) – truly forges a dynamic path of his own on Heritage. It’s an album that celebrates his deep cultural roots while exploring his passions for all types of music – including, we can sense, rock and roll.
Since he’s likely new on the radar as his music enters the U.S. market for the first time, here are a few essential background details. That spirit of rock and roll you detect comes with good reason. Back in 2000, he made his recording debut as a drummer for the rock band Siren, which was signed to BMG Japan. He became an in-demand composer, arranger and producer, with more than 40 songs that charted on Japan’s Top 10 charts and countless awards and accolades for his work with artists like Da Pump, Exil, AAA. Moving to the U.S. in 2013, he quickly received a Grammy nomination for his guitar and keyboard work on “Reggae Connection,” an album produced by Sly & Robbie. He has since produced projects with Mr. Big frontman Eric Martin and famed drummer Terry Bozzio. In addition, Takumi composed “Let’s Make A Video” by YouTube star Poppy and “Reflection” for the Trey Songz album 11. He is also an accomplished magician and a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA.
Heritage gets off to a funky, rumbling and exotic start with the title track, which is dominated by a hypnotic koto melody, punchy synth chords and booming percussion. Takumi’s colorful koto-keyboard dynamic continues on Hanamachi Girl, a whimsical, mystical, easy flowing ballad with an elegant solo piano interlude that showcases the deeper dimensions of his artistry. Throughout most of the eight tracks, the artist works his magic blending piano and/or koto with lush atmospheres and rich electronic textures – a dynamic expressed to its fullest extent on the pulsating electronica romp “After The Nightmare” (which coincidentally offers a bit of hope and determination for us all during the trying time of the album’s release).
Offering different moods for different listening mindsets – sometimes we need a gush of wind, sometimes a chillout session - he contrasts the spirited, high octane approach of “After the Nightmare” and the earthy, percussion heavy, swirling piano driven “Toki” with more introspective, ambient and laid back rhythmic pieces like “Bells In Summer,” “Bamboo Forest,” and the dreamy yet spiritually empowering closing track “Midwater Night’s Neo Dream.” To provide some continuity from his previous recordings, the penultimate track, “Sakura River” is a tender, heartfelt solo piano ballad that harkens back to the eloquent mastery of his previous album On Your Side.
Truly a remarkable, trendsetting contemporary instrumental work, Masa Takumi’s Heritage is one of those rare albums that offers insight into every aspect of his cultural ties, rich artistry, array of influences and sense of invention and adventure. That aesthetic ties in perfectly with the vast catalog of Kitaro, a legendary artist who is now Takumi's label mate.