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Willits + Sakamoto 

Ocean Fire (12k)

Wednesday, Feb 27 2008
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It's risky, making an ambient record about the sea. One false move, and you're in the quagmire of New Age. Luckily, Bay Area tinkerer Christopher Willits and Japanese legend Ryuichi Sakamoto have unparalleled experience with subtle instrumental music, and their collaboration, Ocean Fire, is more fire than ocean. Just as crashing waves can be gentle or deadly, their eerie compositions tug between the calming and disturbing. As lush and inviting as opening track "Toward Water" is, the 11-minute closer "Ocean Sky Remains" packs enough churning dissonance below the surface to turn you away from the tides forever. Recorded live in a series of inspired improvisations in New York City, the pieces coalesced in the computer-aided editing process. You can hear each musician's strengths shine through, from Sakamoto's cinematic mastery of transformed piano notes to Willits' crackling pulses and elastic tones. "Chi-Yu" is a yawning chasm of uncertain atmosphere, while the shorter "Umi" twitches and sizzles. On first listen, there are shades of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's Evening Star and various Cluster albums here, but dwell longer in the submerged grotto of Ocean Fire, and its more engaging subtleties spell out an entirely new musical direction.

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Doug Wallen

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