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XXXVIII: 1964 Tony Scott - Music for Zen Meditation (and other joys)

Tony Scott - Music for Zen Meditation

Erroneously I put John Coltrane's A Love Supreme into the 1964 poll. That so often lauded record never left any impression on me. Probably it has to do with disappointed expectations. I always thought there would be something highly spiritual going on in that music. Maybe there is but it has not yet reached me. Tony Scott's Music for Zen Meditation on the other hand I discovered on my own without having read anything about it beforehand. It became one of my favourite records to calm down and concentrate.

Around 1960 the clarinettist Tony Scott was the ambassador of jazz in the Far East. He spread jazz to Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Tokyo he collaborated with the koto (a zither) player Shinichi Yuize and the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) player Hozan Yamamoto to create one of the first and most original albums of world music, Music for Zen Meditation. It is extraordinary as it is totally improvisational (this could be seen as its underlying jazz vibe which you actually can't hear) on one hand and traditional sounding on the other hand. In the Japanese classical music everything is composed, there is hardly any room for the performer to express himself. The result of this liberation is a naturally flowing peaceful record which to me almost sounds more classic and universal than the classical Japanese music itself. Which I am not very familiar with, I must admit though.

The album can be broken up in three parts. The first piece called Is Not All One? is the only track where the full trio of koto, shakuhachi and clarinet is featured. Which makes it the fullest sounding piece.

The other titles of the first side of the album all conjure up nature scenes.

On The Murmuring Sound of the Mountain Stream the dominating koto is responsible for the sound of the flowing water whereas the clarinet mumbles in the background.

Adequately A Quivering Leaf, Ask the Winds is a wonderful flute solo. In the shakuhachi I hear the musicality of the wind which arises when it touches the leaf.

After the Snow, the Fragrance is a duet of koto and clarinet. The waterdrops of the melting snow can be heard in the strings of the koto, the more profound clarinet provides the scent.

The koto and shakuhachi duet To Drift Like Clouds finishes the first side. A short and light piece.

All titles on the second side are linked to zen meditation. This makes them more abstract, there are no direct connections to natural phenomena. There is another reason why this side is more challenging to listen to, I think. The last three pieces are all koto-clarinet duos. Therefore there is less variation in sound. Which makes sense for meditation purposes, I guess, but I find my aural attention sometimes wandering away especially during the last two pieces Sanzen and Satori.

The first track Za-Zen though is a phantastic albeit much too short duet of shakuhachi and clarinet. It is quite amazing how Tony Scott on the left channel succeeds in mimicking the leading shakuhachi on the right channel. If you turn off the right speaker so that you don't have a reference the clarinet could be taken for a flute in places.

On the second piece, the instrumental chant Prajna-Paramita-Hridaya Sutra Tony Scott mainly plays in the lower registers and the clarinet has its typical soft and brumous sound.

The greatest thing about this album to me is that I never get bored by it. There are no melodies which can ever get used up. Every listen purifies the mind of the mundane distractions like a cup of clear green tea.

Here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part XXXVIII was this post.


last updated: 2/23/21 8:55 AM
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