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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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Asa-Chang & Junray
Tsu Gi Ne Pu

Even though you have to credit much of it to aggressive label PR, one of the more pleasant musical phenomena of 2002 was, nonetheless, how well-loved Asa-Chang & Junray's debut album Jun Ray Song Chang became. On the close-to-mental disc peddling this preposterous ad-hoc assemblage of Eastern instrumentation, cut-up percussion, and general zoned-out frolics, the straggling Japanese outfit bore the influence of the pan-Asian travels and travails of its honcho, Asa-Chang. In the early '90s, he was once the bandleader for dub-loving big-band the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. But after spending five years in the wilderness (literally), Asa-Chang returned obsessed with the rhythmic possibilities of the tabla and the musical possibilities of the mantra, even if his postmodernist mantras were filled with static peaks and maddening cut-ups. After they initially issued an EP for Cornelius' Trattoria Sound label in Japan way back in the hazy days of, like, the late '90s, last year's first Asa-Chang & Junray longplayer was three hard-living years in the making. And, by both pushed-upon hype-making and some strange manifestation of the cosmos, the zoned-out outing actually garnered albums-of-the-year bouquets in such esteemed/reviled publications as The Wire and Mojo, on the rundown list along with the usual suspects in such camps. The follow-up mini-album finds more of the same baffling, bizarre, beautiful, strangely transcendental sound. Asa-Chang walks a fine line between the pretty and the pretty-annoying, and his work always makes me think of mosquitoes, and there are moments on each of these last two records where the vibe (man) does hit a bit of a dead spot. But, like a streak-shooter in the fourth quarter, when AC's on, he's on. This set's inspired/inspiring centerpiece "Tsuginepu To Ittemita" runs into remarkable artistic touch, its spellbinding, repetitive poetic incantation and elicited mood every bit the clutch effort that the last disc's "Hana" was.

by Anthony Carew

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