07. One from Agatsuma

Following in the wake of post 04. One of my favourites, this week I return with a musical recommendation. An album that deserves some listens.

Master Hiromitsu Agatsuma is considered one of the best performers of Tsugaru Shamisen. He recorded his first album in 2001 and has released a total of seventeen albums to date.

Nutrad is his fifteenth studio album and was released in 2018. Today I’ll give you a taste of its goodness and its standout songs.

The reason I have chosen this album is because it is one of the freshest, most accessible and interesting for an initiate to the shamisen sound.  Here is the set list:

01. Akatsuki
02. Beams (Nutrad)
03. Mogamigawa
04. Cross Over
05. Solitude (Trio)
06. いいあんべえ(ii anbee)
07.   One to One
08. 時の旅人(toki no tabibito)
09. Zipangu
10. Jonkara (kyu bushi)

As its name indicates, Nutrad is a transgressive album, but at the same time traditional and respectful with the Shamisen. A constant mixture of genres, where the electronic bases predominate with touches of Jazz and Japanese Folklore.

The album begins in style with Akatsuki, one of the most powerful songs. After a few seconds, we can already sense where the track is going to go. The electronic base is growing and giving colour to the track to end up joining the sound of the very powerful electric Tsugaru Shamisen. I would dare to say that they added distortion in some of the phrases and the truth is that it suits them very well.

This electronic and distorted shamisen style continues with the classic Beams, a reinterpretation of one of their most popular songs. Personally, I prefer this version. The arrangements are more elegant and forceful, factors that manage to improve the original piece. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s a reversion of one of their classics, I would say it’s the best one on the album.

Mogamigawa is a cover of a Japanese folk classic, Mogamigawa Funauta, a traditional piece rooted in Miyagi Prefecture. The highlight of this song is the hypnotic and resonant voice of Saya Asakura, a delight for the ears. As a curiosity, in the final part of the song, you can hear the voice of Agatsuma san himself singing part of the lyrics.

Cross Over is perhaps the weakest point of the album. It abuses the electronic effects and impregnates the shamisen with some of them that don’t convince me.

As with Beams, Solitude: trio is another of his classics reinterpreted for this album. It is one of the most beautiful songs in Hiromitsu Agatsuma’s discography. The delicacy and effectiveness of its notes have always transmitted me a lot of nostalgia and peace. This time, accompanied by sweet piano notes and soft percussion that reinforce the mellow Tsugaru Shamisen. Not to be missed.

いいいあんべえ(ii ambee) is a version of the popular Japanese band The Boom. The curious thing about this band is that they are originally from Okinawa and in this version, the Sanshin, precursor of the shamisen and originating from the exotic island, has a great prominence. It is accompanied by the voice of The boom’s vocalist and the characteristic chorus of the original song. The shamisen has a more secondary role but it is very interesting to hear the duel with the sanshin, at the beginning and in the middle of the song, to clearly see their differences.

In One To One we find a more usual piece in Hiromitsu Agatsuma’s discography. Shamisen with bongos and cajón percussion, a combination that never fails. The virtues of the Tsugaru Shamisen are clearly reflected in its variety of registers and phrases. A song with a lot of flow and without a doubt one of my favourites.

時の旅人 Jazzy (Toki no tabibito) is another early hit, reinterpreted in a jazz key. In the original song, shakuhachi and taiko were the protagonists, this time, it’s piano and percussion. Both versions are very good, but perhaps I would choose this one because of the solo section at the end. Agatsuma has been perfecting his style over the years, and in this song he proves it with flying colours.

The end is near and here comes another important one. Zipangu is the most rounded song on the album. I think that in this song he managed to perfectly capture the modern electronic music with the sound of the shamisen. A pop song, motivating, fresh and with a lot of punch. Press play and enjoy.

You were waiting for it and it couldn’t be missed. The album closes with JONKARA, or in other words, Tsugaru Jongara Bushi in its oldest and most original composition, known as Kyubushi. If I name Hiromitsu Agatsuma as a master for anything, it is because he plays the traditional songs of Tsugaru Shamisen like no one else. A constant inspiration to keep improving my shamisen skills.

I hope you enjoyed this text and encouraged to listen to Agatsuma’s album. Remember to stay tuned to the website for future updates and follow me (or share) on instagram if you liked this article.

Nutrad is available on Spotify and Youtube.


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