Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ryuichi Sakamoto - BTTB

In a departure from his more electronically amplified works, composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto's BTTB stands as a sometimes contemplative, a periodically nostalgic, and an often new age-sounding acoustic piano album. At the time that Sakamoto began composing for BTTB, he thought that a CD of piano music felt right, though he was not sure of what kind of styles he wanted to play around with. Instead of settling on one or two styles, the renowned pianist and composer experimented with several. For instance, on BTTB, Sakamoto delves into avant-garde piano techniques, playing a prepared piano on the gently circular "Prelude" and "Uetax." With his song "Bachata," Sakamoto interprets folkloric music from the Dominican Republic. Sakamoto's two choral-inspired pieces, "Choral No. 1" and "Choral No. 2," were born out of his fascination with Bach's "St. Mathew Passion" and medieval-esque Gregorian chants. On BTTB, Sakamoto also plays with a variety of themes. On the CD's first two tracks, "Energy Flow" and "Put Your Hands Up - Piano Version," Sakamoto is concerned with issues of healing and therapy. With "Railroad Man," the CD's third track, the pianist and composer attempts to depict the ambience of steam locomotives. All in all, BTTB is a mellifluous CD that highlights Sakamoto's heartfelt dedication to the piano and fascination with various musical traditions. - by John Vallier, AMG

It's somewhat difficult to describe the impression "BTTB" made when I first listened to the album nearly two years ago, but in the very least I can say this: it was, at the time, my single inspiration for learning the piano and proved an accessible gateway into the music of Romantic and Contemporary Classical. For this reason alone I'm deeply indebted to Sakamoto. Yet rather than persuade with articulated opinions....
"BTTB" is nearly a tribute album to Sakamoto's classical influences. Erik Satie, perhaps the single most influential composer on Sakamoto's piano style, can be heard all over the album. Most noticeably on the very French-like "Opus," "Lorenz and Watson," "Chanson," and the nearly Bach-like Chorales. John Cage is also emulated more conspicuously on the album's prepared piano pieces (particularly "Sonata," which sounds very much like Cage's fifth sonata for prepared piano which, as coincidence would also have it, was sampled on David Sylvian's "Pollen Path" from "Dead Bees on a Cake" featuring Sakamoto). But two Romantic composers seem to be more carefully hinted at: a tilt of the hat to Brahms on the beautiful "Intermezzo" and towards Ravel on the challenging "Sonatine" and "Bachata." Yet Sakamoto draws no more heavily from his classical influences than his own output. "Energy Flow," "Put Your Hands Up," and "Railroad Man" are new piano arrangements of recent commercial compositions and are all uniquely Sakamoto, except perhaps for "Aqua," a simple piece originally composed for his daughter Miu's album, but no less beautiful than the more sophisticated compositions. "Snake Eyes," the main theme for the film of the same title, was also recorded as bonus material along with the playful YMO fanfare "Tong Poo," here in a new two-handed piano four-hands arrangement courtesy of a little computer processing. And the too often over-looked "Reversing," a unique track to the otherwise castrated international release, is in my opinion a hidden gym. It's also worth mentioning a little more clearly the differences between the numerous versions of "BTTB." The album was originally released in Japan sans "Energy Flow," "Put Your Hands Up," and "Railroad Man" (which were released separately on the enormously successful EP "ura-BTTB") and featured several tracks not included on the international release: "Distant Echo," "Do Bacteria Sleep?", which features, oddly enough for a piano album, a Mongolian mouth harp, and the prepared piano piece "Sonata." "Snake Eyes" and "Tong Poo" were later included as bonus tracks on the Japanese reissue. For fans of Sakamoto's music, I would recommend buying the import "BTTB" featuring the bonus tracks along with "Ura-BTTB," but you very well might want the international release for "Reversing" alone. Yes, that is how they get you.... Oh, and "Choral No. 3" can be heard in Sakamoto's opera, so I also recommend any of the many, many releases of "Life." Otherwise, the international release provides a decent "best of" from the wealth of piano music either originally composed or arranged for the album. - by A. Rue, Amazon.com

Artist: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Album: BTTB
Year: 1999
Label: Sony Classical
Runtime: 64:50

1.  Opus 4:25 
2.  Sonatine 3:38 
3.  Intermezzo 3:44 
4.  Lorenz and Watson 3:56 
5.  Choral No1 2:27 
6.  Choral No2 2:04 
7.  Do Bacteria Sleep? 4:17 
8.  Bachata 8:14 
9.  Chanson 2:23 
10.  Distant Echo 5:53 
11.  Prelude 4:08 
12.  Sonata 3:30 
13.  Uetax 0:26 
14.  Aqua 4:28 
15.  Snake Eyes 6:06 
16.  Tong Poo 5:03 
All compositions by R. Sakamoto

Ryuichi Sakamoto (Piano)

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