NeoBallad - Tenchi jinshin shin ~Ito no kanade~

review - 23.06.2017 10:01

Folk songs from various cities and regions of Japan have been interpreted in a completely new way.

Pop folk duo NeoBallad, singer Wakasa Sachi and composer and drummer Kamiryou Wataru, held their one-man live Tenchi jinshin shin Vol.4 at KOENJI HIGH on August 16th, 2014. In September 2015 the respective live DVD, titled Tenchi jinshin shin ~Ito no kanade~ was released with a bonus CD. In November 2016 the duo held their first overseas performance at HYPER JAPAN in London, Great Britain, one more reason to take a closer look at the duo.

The concert began with the Prologue, a short narration accompanied by beautiful images of nature projected onto a screen. Almost seamlessly this was followed by soft shamisen chords of Itako ayame odori then Sachi's sensitive vocals and the drums joined in. The singer has an ethereal quality due to her initial disguising herself with a bright scarf wrapped around her head, which fits perfectly with the soft, calm sounds of this traditional piece from Ibaraki. Somewhere in the middle the track became a bit faster, a dull bass joined in and tsugaru shamisen player Jack entered the stage. Meanwhile, images of a traditional festival at night were shown in the background.

NeoBallad and guest musician Jack continued their set with the cheerful Hachinohe kouta from Aomori. Due to the instrumentation, vocal interpretation, including falsetto parts, and the background vocals you occasionally have the feeling that you’re listening to an enka song. Afterwards, Sachi warmly welcomed the audience to their one-man live, then introduced Jack and also the next song.

Soran bushi had an enka-like character too but due to the livelier rhythm and wonderful electric guitar solo the song felt more exuberant. The following track, Tsugaru jongara bushi from Aomori, featured a dexterous shamisen performance by Jack, who played his instrument like a rock star. The originally very traditional piece became an interesting trip into the old Japan with this modern interpretation, backed with synthesizers. Sachi successfully animated the audience to clap along.

Next came the leisurely paced, dreamy ballad Sotoyama bushi from Iwate. Sachi danced like a feather over the stage, swaying softly to the music. With the next song, Hiroshima kiyari ondo, the atmosphere changed dramatically. The pace of the song was still slow but the melody felt slightly scary and mysterious. The duo rocked the stage alone for Shimotsui bushi and the feeling changed quickly again. Bright, dreamy synthesizer, a Japanese flute, Sachi's cheerful vocals, Wataru's powerful drums and Sachi's dancing combined with modern projections on the screen to create a fascinating setting.

Chawanmushi no uta was similar, though a bit brighter and more playful. A huge reason for this feeling was the beautiful synthesizer melody. Wataru's drum solo and Sachi's gentle dancing also contributed in creating the care-free character of the songs from Kagoshima.

The Yamagata based Hanagasa ondo was another happy, enka-like piece of music and Sachi danced across the stage with a flower bouquet. During the following MC the vocalist introduced the two violinists, Asai Mari and MIZ, who gave a playful performance of Konpira fune fune. Unfortunately, the violins were barely audible because the electric guitar, bass, synthesizer and drums dominated the soft sounds of the strings almost completely. In the subsequent ethereal Akita nagamochi uta the two violinists’ performances were much clearer in this calm, dreamy ballad than in the piece before.

The two guest musicians left the stage for Shin soma bushi but tsugaru shamisen player Jack returned to perform this mysterious piece from Fukushima. A bamboo forest at night, lit up with fire flies, was shown on screen, strengthening the enigmatic impression and the drum solo in the middle of the song felt very atmospheric. NeoBallad remained a while longer in the area around Fukushima and started to play Aizu bandai san. Meanwhile Jack had left the stage once more and the crowd were able to enjoy Sachi in a very good mood to the playful song with a music video playing simultaneously.

During Sachi's introduction for the next piece, Nanbu tawara tsumi uta from Iwate, Jack returned. Sachi danced across the stage to the almost disco-like beat with a fan in her hand and encouraged the fans to clap along. This was followed by the light-hearted Akita ondo, that drew attention immediately thanks to its bright flute melody and the fast rock and roll beat. Once more Sachi danced around with her fan while Jack showed off his dexterous play with a solo.

Jack's shamisen started Kase no yakko odori and Mari and MIZ joined the ensemble. With five people on stage the folk song developed into a cheerful, up-tempo number with a festive character. The calm Tanko bushi followed with only Wataru, Sachi and the two violin players on stage. The violins stood out wonderfully in this beautiful ballad and Sachi's vocals and dancing suited the emotional character of this song from Fukuoka.

The set continued with the livelier and more cheerful Mamurogawa ondo. Sachi danced around the stage with a fan and Mari and MIZ even rocked along with the music while they weren’t playing. For the next number, the bright and dreamy Asaodoya yunta, NeoBallad were once again supported by Mari and MIZ. Their violin play combined with Sachi's singing brought a sad note into the calm, emotional song.

The DVD finishes with the encore song, Akita daikoku mai. All five musicians had gathered on stage for this number and Sachi swung a golden hammer, infecting the crowd with her good mood. This lively performance featured some beautiful solos. Including end credits, the live DVD has a total running time of about 88 minutes.

As initially mentioned, the release is completed with a CD which features all the songs from the DVD as live versions, excluding the prologue, the MCs and the piece Akita daikoku mai. Acoustically you notice hardly a difference, only the mixing is a bit different. Because of that some instruments, like the violins on Konpira fune fune for example, sound better on the CD than the DVD.

The live DVD Tenchi jinshin shin ~Ito no kanade~ musically presents a different Japan. The traditional folk songs were transformed for our times by Kamiryou Wataru in a very entertaining way using pop sounds. The live footage of NeoBallad's concert is pretty entertaining and showed marvelously how seemingly dusty old songs can be revived through new orchestration. The guest musicians also impressed alongside the duo. This release is great introduction to NeoBallad for music fans.

Music video of Hachinohe kouta

Digest live footage of Nanbu tawara tsumi uta
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