You don’t have to be a climber or avid hiker to sense the call of the mountains. They speak to the human psyche, promising both tests of endurance and spectacular views. Nothing beats the feeling of finally reaching the summit. Masako’s seventh album, Call of the Mountains: Ascent, captures every aspect of this exciting topic. The 14-track long album offers terrific panoramas and sublime narratives, masterfully composed and performed by Masako. The album is produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton.
Masako was born and raised in Japan and started piano lessons at age four. She worked for Yamaha Music Foundation as a certified instructor. Years after Masako moved to the US with her family, she asked Will Ackerman to produce her first album, Masako (2012). She has since released the albums Call of the Mountains (2014), Piano Sanctuary (2017), Underwater Whisperer (2019), Wanderlust and Hidden Flowers. She won the 2020 Zone Music Reporter’s two awards, “Album of the Year” and “Best Piano Album with Instrumentation” – and she is currently no. 1 on the New Age Music Chart for February 2023 for Call of the Mountains: Ascent!
The first two tracks Calling and Final Ascent set the atmosphere for everything that follows. The gorgeous Calling tells about the almost magnetic quality of mountains. The melody immediately strikes a chord with the listener, communicating a deep-rooted longing for nature, fresh air, and sunshine at the summit. Staying inside suddenly doesn’t seem like an option. Calling features Eugene Friesen on cello.
The six minutes long Final Ascent is nothing short of a New Age music masterpiece! The slow, well-made built-up, gentle yet powerful arrangement and intertwining melodies ensure a sublime listening experience. We hear Premik Russell Tubbs on EWI, Tom Eaton on synth, vocals by Noah Wilding, and, of course, Masako on piano.
Elusive in and Conifers give time to reflect on nature’s many miracles before the two-part Embraced by Green zooms in on the human experiences out in the wild. It is easily on par with the best pieces by supergroup FLOW, which is fitting since we hear Jeff Oster on horn and Tom Eaton on bass. Charlie Bisharat’s violin is wonderful as always. I love Masako’s gentle piano here; It is a magnificent composition!
Solitude starts with a hint of loneliness before a healing sense of calm takes over. Traverse focuses on the harder and more exciting parts of any mountain journey. A degree of danger is a part of the experience. Mothers is about the life-giving forces in nature. I found myself putting the track on reply; it is that kind of melody that keeps on giving – just like a mother. A fitting name, indeed.
Call of the Mountains: Ascent is about grand panoramas, and the rolling Swift River is among the very finest. What I Left Behind and How To Calm a Bear makes the listener reflect on two completely different ideas. After days or perhaps weeks of hiking, being back in busy city streets can be hard – and Masako communicates that feeling in a terrific way. How to behave if you come across a bear is also vital. It is actually a quite playful track.
The three last tracks on the album refine and elevate the idea behind the album. One of my favorite pieces on the album is Deepening Autumn. The colorful and dynamic melody has a lot of personality; it is like meeting the autumn queen herself. Above the Treeline, featuring keyboard, female vocal, and cello paints breathtakingly beautiful pictures of cold, snow-covered mountain tops. The album closer is dedicated to the orchid Lady’s Slipper. Masako has composed many pieces about flowers, and Lady’s Slipper is no exception: The elegant yet light melody makes it easy to envision the beautiful orchid before our inner eye.
In conclusion: “To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles,” Mary Davis said. Each note on Masako’s Call of the Mountains: Ascent seems to be charged with that same kind of awe; each hike is filled with a thousand miracles if you only open your eyes to nature’s beauty. To be embraced by green, to quote one of the titles, is an incredible feeling – even more so if you are dealing with stress and negativity in your everyday life.
I’m not familiar with the mountains of Japan or the Northeastern USA, Masako’s two sources of inspiration. I live on the other side of the world; in Bergen, Norway, in a city surrounded by seven mountains. Still, Call of the Mountains: Ascent talks to me about the mountains that I know and love. A hallmark of great art is that it speaks to you across cultures and continents – and Masako’s latest album has this quality in abundance.
Much piano music fades into the background and stays there. Masako’s music, on the other hand, requires active listening. So is also the case with her most recent release. It demands something from you – but as soon as you tune in to Masako’s unique brand of storytelling, it is a highly rewarding experience.
For more information and music samples, visit masako-music.com.
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