Atsuko Hatano “Cells#5”

Atsuko Hatano’s work has been a regular companion throughout the past year. The Japanese composer and violist Often released as albums of two long pieces that are often exploratory, digging into experimental drones and textures. Hatano continually amazes me with the depth of her work and the clarity of her expression. On Cells#5, though, she levels up. Her most accomplished and most impactful work to date, this suite is a thrilling, emotional ride from beginning to end.

Hatano enlisted a host of incredible artists to play on Cells#5 including Eiko Ishibashi, Icchie, and Natsumi Kudo, the latter two’s horn playing on “Foghorn” a triumphant spectacle. Inside 3 ½ minutes, Hatano packs quite the payload. Opening gently like the curtains rising on opening night or the beginning moments of a commencement ceremony, the calmness is deceptive. Halfway in while Hatano’s strings screech and sing, the piece explodes into the night sky, a blinding blast of light that, like most victories, is short-lived. Icchie and Kudo lace mournful notes across the string-laden sea, a folded blanket to mark the dying breaths of an era. It’s a miniature epic.

Ghosts haunt the cracks and corners of “Her Parade,” Ishibashi’s piano lamentations gradually overwhelmed by Hatano’s layered strings. She calls this her signature methodology, songs played by guest musicians that are eventually swallowed by a string orchestra. The effect here is one of chaos and madness; the feeling of losing hope and motivation as the world at large becomes too large a dragon to fight. She achieves the opposite on closer “Jettison,” with Ishibashi once again playing foil with contemplative piano passages that mourn the specters of the past. This time, though, the stirring strings beneath are the rustle of belief opening its eyes, the promise of better returning. Once Hatano takes over, “Jettison” rises to the stars again.

Cells#5 is a wonder. Atsuko Hatano is an artist fully coming into her own and with accomplished works like this, hers is a name that will become familiar to many. Beyond the sprawling beauty and heart-rendering compositions, the conceptual nature of her work is bottomless. For an artist with so many incredible albums already, Cells#5 pushes ahead into new, exciting sonic territories.

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