Kazu Matsui is synonymous with American cinema music, particularly the films that feature Ry Cooder and James Horner as composers. Bursting on the scene in the early eighties with his eerie, suspense-laden accompaniment of the epic TV movie SHOGUN, he has been an ever-growing staple of action films. While he is a resident of Huntington Beach, CA, Kazu is the main proponent of his instrument, the Japanese shakuhachi flute, in the Western world. While carrying on the tradition of his mystical instrument, Matsui is opening up a new audience for his native temple flute that has a history well over 1000 years.
Some of his latest film contributions include; THE MASK OF ZORRO, LEDGENDS OF A FALL, COMMANDO, THE WILLOW, RED HEAT, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, JUMANJI and THE CROW. Although unknown by name to most of the general public, he has solidified his place in movie music history. You begin to get an idea of how often we've heard this master at work once you view a roster of his contributions.
The first recollection of "feeling" this artist, sensing the urgency and drama of his instrument came while I was watching THE LONG RIDERS and SOUTHERN COMFORT films featuring a Ry Cooder soundtrack. Kazu Matsui explores his soul and carries the experience of a handed down technique and evolution of the temple flute with every breath. Part of the seduction of this elusive instrument is the various nuances of pitch slides; finger placement and flutter tonguing that can be performed on the bamboo pipe. While simple in construction and appearance, the shakuhachi requires masterful performance technique from the musician. The name shakuhachi means 1.8 shaku (1 shaku = .994 feet). This is the standard size flute but there are larger sizes that have a warm full tone while the standard flute has a more brilliant and penetrating sound. All of these instruments contain a huge dynamic range in all registers in fact; they can be almost inaudible to blaring with no lack of tone.
Kazu has recorded with many artists including Kenny Loggins, Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar and his wife, Keiko Matsui. He has maintained a world-music project group that is ever-evolving and changes themes with each incarnation. His 1981 release 'Time No Longer' featured four "A" list session guitarist from LA Larry Carlton, Steve Lukather, Lee Ritenour and Robben Ford. The 1991 release 'Sign of the Snow Crane' featured more use of electronic keyboards and use of space and sound pads. 1993 gave us a collaboration with the great eclectic artistry of David Lindley who performed with almost every ethnic string instrument in existence, the perfect compliment to Kazu's flute and his wife's keyboard accompaniment. 1995 offered a solo effort with his wife Keiko and her electric band that featured some great soprano sax performances from Paul Taylor with whom Kazu would later produce.
Kazu and Keiko began experimenting with the idea of melding Eastern & Western music forms with classical music masters of the past namely, Mozart and Schubert. These recordings are a great tribute to the composers, while letting the husband / wife duo, extrapolate upon the melodies and rhythms with their special delivery. The subsequent recordings: 'Tribal Mozart' (1997) and 'Tribal Schubert' (1999) help solidify the nucleus of the current project that Keiko is enjoying with Bob James during the "Four - Hand" piano duo concert tour around the world this year (January-March 2001).
Kazu is not a "traditional" jazz musician, but a very creative and sensitive world-music instrumentalist. Matsui has performed produced and help nurture great works from his euphoric visions. One look and listen at the success he has had as a producer and performer on his wife's many recordings, gives you insight to this great talent, indeed. During the last fifteen years, Kazu has helped guide the career and prodigious talents of his wife, Keiko Matsui, well known for her prodigious smooth-jazz performances. This inseparable duo has created beautiful music for anyone who has a yearning for vibrant rhythms, melodic extrapolation, and a use for space in composition. If there is one lesson Miles taught us in all of his schooling, it is the concept of letting a composition and solo breathe so the listener can engage the music as a participant, not just an outsider.
Keiko and Kazu Matsui have risen to the top of the smooth-jazz charts. Among her many accomplishments, Keiko has maintained dignity in her music as the Number One Contemporary Jazz Independent Artist-Billboard and winner of the 1999 Female Artist of the Year - Oasis Awards. The Matsui's have a beautiful family and temper their work (recording and performing) with a "traditional" Japanese family bond that is the creative force behind the success. Their two daughters are the pride of the family and travel with their parents during their annual sojourn to Japan for school and family reunions. This year serves up a great concert schedule including, the soon to be famed "Four - Hand" piano tour with Bob James, which just ushered in the New Year with a bang.
I was able to speak with Kazu on October 7th, 2000 at the Ferst Concert Hall at the campus of Georgia Tech University in Atlanta. Meeting Kazu was a thrill and I saw him during the sound check and saw his incredible ears in action as he directed the mix of the concert sound. His mastery of tone, volume and the overall production was golden! I also met Keiko Matsui who I found to be very gracious, charming and a stunning beauty that embodies a Great Spirit of love and artistry that permeates her music. Style can be learned or sometimes emulated, but class is something a person has been given as a gift and Keiko has this "gift". Due to time restraints and a business meeting at the venue, I was unable to interview Keiko. However, I was honored by Kazu's gracious and candid interview after the sound check and dinner.
I had no idea there was a duo tour scheduled and stumbled upon one of the best jazz duo tours in years! I found the band to be having a great time and I couldn't wait to see the band in action (Kazu included!) for the 'Whisper from the Mirror' tour. I must note that after the sold out concert (1200 seats) Keiko And Kazu signed autographs, CD's and posed for pictures over an hour and showed me why their fans feel like family, essentially we are! Fine.