How can an album sound like summer and winter at the same time? Motohiro Nakashima has gathered the light in a manner that emulates tikkun olam, no matter the season. This is exactly the sort of album we need right now: positive, encouraging and multi-faceted. While best known for his fingerstyle guitar, Nakashima plays nearly a dozen instruments here, with contributions by five more on strings, brass and woodwind. Field recordings, from children at play to lapping waves, add an aura of warmth. The overall effect is one of peace and light, from morning sun to Northern Star.
“Strains of Light” begins in a flourish, like a playground dance. A shaker keeps tempo by the stream; light “ah”s decorate a parent’s pride. Banjo and trumpet grace “Colors of Sunlight,” as though the Crayola box has been emptied into the sky. Then the entire piece shifts to strings, pausing in awe. The theme continues in Toshinori Tanaka’s video for “Reflection,” shot at a local children’s home. The juxtaposition of tears and glockenspiel is like a promise that things will turn out okay ~ and then they do.
Shifting from park to beach, the album enters a segment that begins with “Seaglass” and ends with “Paddle.” The implication is that broken, jagged shards can be smoothed and made beautiful over time, like childhood tears or adult trauma. Nakashima was inspired by multiple sources, from the documentary “Kasukana Hikari-e” to Uri Shulevitz’s picture book Dawn, but the theme remains the same: light, whether physical, metaphorical or spiritual, creates balance in a darkened world. This sense of emergence is most apparent in “The Dawn,” as the mandolin holds the line until the birds and glockenspiel can arrive. “La”s surface at the end of “Paddle,” folding back to the beginning.
Entering its final phase, the album continues to celebrates cycle (“The Dawn Again”) and offers a few words of wisdom (“The End Is Not the End”) on its way to the title track. Throughout the set, Nakashima has been gathering light in the form of birdsong, cricket chirp, memory and melody. The four-note motif of the penultimate track even echoes the first four notes of “Joy to the World.” In the closing piece ~ the album’s second peak, following “Dawn” ~ the full ensemble plays. The effect is that of a day’s worth of sea glass poured into one’s hands, a bouquet of flowers brought to the hearth, or a holiday reunion. All of the colors of the spectrum have been gathered, creating a beam so powerful it dispenses the darkness. (Richard Allen)