Jun Miyake – Stolen From Strangers (2008)

As far as I can tell, Jun Miyake’s name gathered most of its visibility only very recently, with the release of the film Pina, by Wim Wenders. This prolific jazz trumpet player and composer from Japan had been involved with Pina Bausch’s dance company for many years, providing music for several of their shows, so it was only fitting that he would also write the score for the film dedicated to her particular take on the art of movement. His mind boggling ability to speak the most diverse musical languages and to integrate them into a coherent vision took me by surprise when I first heard his music, and it is still one of the most remarkable reasons to enjoy this album and talk about it.

Throughout a single record, Jun Miyake can take you from Brazil to Paris to Teheran and leave you dizzy on the streets of Tokyo, without even breaking a sweat, and without ever making you suspect there’s some sort of parody or cheap trick at hand. It’s as if music in all its forms is perfectly open and willing to mold itself to his perspective, regardless of local flavor or custom, of era or style. He can simply approach anything and make it his own in a perfectly convincing, enthralling and deeply dramatic way. This album seems to have a particular focus on the rhythms and warmth of Brazilian music (you know, samba, bossa nova…), picked up and interpreted in such a way as to produce an uncanny effect of familiarity and lunatic, ominous tension.

Listen to Antonio Carlos Jobim or Joao Gilberto – their music has a longing, nostalgic feel to it, as if the deepest sorrow somehow managed to mingle with the baking sun and the soft feeling of acceptance which comes with time and experience. Now take that complex emotion and add a little panic, a little uncertainty, the premonition of something somber looming just around the corner, the odd, sickly daze of the sun-struck mind, and you’ve got a good part of Stolen From Strangers. It’s positively fascinating how Jun Miyake can so gracefully and meaningfully add to an already quite complex mode of musical thought and simply transform it into something completely surprising and mesmerizing. I love bossa nova, and I’ve loved it even more since I discovered its particular patterns on the guitar neck, the softness and intricacy of the music feeling so tightly intertwined with the way your fingers are supposed to shift and dance on the frets, but I’ve always felt there’s a subtle dose of cheesiness to it, since it’s been so overused and abused during the sixties. No such thing in Miyake’s music – he simply cuts it away, surgically, and grafts a cold, shadowy form of jazz there instead. Out with the Hollywood and in with a genuine, almost intimidating vision which manages to bring a new, unexpected and overwhelming power to the music.

And on and on the wheel turns, to the French chansonette, to the urban jazz tune, the middle-eastern dance and even the Japanese ballad, Jun Miyake morphs all of these into new things, unknown things, which prowl and crawl and leap forth from the speakers like so many phantasms, in an unrelenting attack of movement made sound. This is probably the main connecting element between these musical ideas – the fact that they all recall, incite and express movement. Between the notes and chords, there’s always the shape of a body moving, seen as if through the spaces of a picket fence while walking past. Picture, if you will, a body moving not to music, but music being projected forth by a dancing form, the sole of the foot recalling the intricate swirl of the clef at the beginning of the bar, and the nail of the finger and the curvature of the eyelash as notes and trills on the score. This vision seems to stem forth naturally from Jun Miyake’s music – it’s no surprise at all he worked so much with Pina Bausch – and it presents itself in a dazzling and intimidating display to me, never really having understood dancing.

I might be over thinking this, but I don’t think so – everything I’ve said just feels right. I suppose I just don’t trust myself to speak about dancing or music which projects such a clear image of it to me, it’s simply not my area, I feel lost and overwhelmed and mesmerized, all at the same time. I hope I’ve managed to convey some of this wonder in these words. Enjoy! See you soon.

P.S.: Jun Miyake’s website has an embedded player which samples over 160 songs from his entire discography. It seems that the embed code doesn’t work on my blog for some reason, but if you’re feeling adventurous and interested, check it out over there.

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