Michio Kurihara - "A Boat Of Courage" (Sunset Notes)
For Japanese guitarist Michio Kurihara, guitar tone is a fetish object. There are few guitarists extant with as sure a grasp on the importance of appropriate tone as Kurihara, who has spent the last two decades scything across the Japanese underground with a playing style as deft and eloquent as it can be wild and unhinged. An unmatchable accompanist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of playing styles from the 1960s and ‘70s, he has rested upon Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cippolina as his guide. It’s a sharp choice: like Cippolina, Kurihara’s playing fans out in glorious ripples and waves. He doesn’t merely play, actually, so much as spin an intricate, gold-spun web of notes woven from the interstices of the fret board.
An on-again off-again member of White Heaven and Ghost, and a key player in The Stars, he is also Damon & Naomi’s preferred guitarist. Sunset Notes was originally released on Japanese micro-label Pedal in 2005 and reappears here on Damon & Naomi’s 20/20/20 imprint. White Heaven’s You Ishihara is his foil for much of the album, though there are guest appearances from Ichiro Shibata on drums; engineer Soichiro Nakamura on bass and organ, and Ai Aso on vocals. The latter’s contributions are particularly deoxygenating, her droll voice whispering through “Wind Waltzes” and “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters” with a calm, detached air, the better to source the melancholy of memory behind the lyrics.
In recent interviews, Kurihara has discussed his nostalgia for the auburn glow of childhood sunsets. That wistfulness maps neatly onto much of Sunset Notes, where snaking lines hang pensively in mid-air, provisional yet articulate answers to half-remembered questions. Kurihara’s playing balances beautifully between tension and release, and the album’s emotional depth is constantly reinforced thanks to his thoughtful take on the guitar.
“Twilight Mystery of A Russian Cowboy”’s surf-Western twang aside, most of Sunset Notes is dressed in pastel hues, and even when he’s being relatively brash, as on the sky-bound opener “Time To Go,” there’s a quizzical air to Kurihara’s songs. Working in a field that’s so often the preserve of egomaniacal self-indulgence and florid dabbling, it’s a very welcome and rare breed of ‘guitarist’s album’ that so impresses with its understatement.