FEBRUARY 16, 2010 — She plays an ancient harp invented nearly 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Variously named “angular harp,” “chang,” “kunghou,” and “kugo,” the instrument on which Tomoko Sugawara performs can be seen in centuries-old Buddhist cave paintings and in artists’ depictions from countries along the trade route known as the Silk Road. On March 9th, the classically trained harpist will release her Motema debut, Along the Silk Road, which brings the enchanting music of this historically revered instrument to life once again for the world to hear.
The unique kugo harp on which Sugawara performs is a twenty-first century reconstruction of an angular harp which is pictured on a reliquary box painted during the sixth or seventh century BC. The angular harp disappeared from the world stage some 300 years ago, was only evidenced in paintings from antiquity until Sugawara and her partner, music archaeologist Bo Lawrengren, brought plans for a reconstruction to luthiers Bill and Catherine Campbell, who worked closely with the pair to faithfully recreate a modern rendition that would honor the essence of an instrument that was revered for centuries.
In Buddhist lore, the angular harp was considered one of the glories of paradise, with a sound both celestial and refined. Sugawara’s Along the Silk Road reveals these glories; her music is deeply emotional and expressive, interweaving meticulously transcribed historical compositions from the regions where the harp once flourished - Tang Dynasty China and 13th century Iran and Spain - with modern works especially for Kugo as commissioned from noted composers from Japan, Iran and the United States. The traditional compositions on the CD include a medieval Persian Qawl, and two sacred Cantigas, written by King Alfonso X of Spain. The two selections based on the music of China’s Tang Dynasty have been expanded and enhanced by the two-time Fulbright scholar and Bearns Prize winning composer Stephen Dydo.
The contemporary composers who have contributed compositions to Along the Silk Road bring forward the cross-cultural heritage of this instrument to the present day. Compositions are included from the Italian-born (and now Chicago-based) Robert Lombardo, Japanese Kikuko Masumoto, and Iranian Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour.
This unique release introduces a new World Music series on Motema Music, known mostly for its releases by noted jazz composer/performers. Label president Jana Herzen explains that she discovered Tomoko and Bo performing at the Rubin Museum of Asian Art. “I was thoroughly enchanted by Tomoko’s presence and the delicate sound of the harp. Bo’s stories were also so very charming. I asked for a CD, but they didn’t have one. So we decided then and there to collaborate on a release.”
Engineer Jay Mark, who has worked with such legendary artists as the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton, and noted NYC mastering engineer Allan Tucker of Foothill Digital added a sonic sheen to the recording of the CD. The CD package also features a beautifully illustrated booklet with historical notes and illustrations by Bo Lawergren.
Born in Tokyo, Tomoko Sugawara began to play the Irish harp at age twelve and the grand harp at sixteen. A graduate of Tokyo University with a degree in Fine Arts, Sugawara first took up the kugo in 1994. She has performed on both the concert harp and kugo in many major international venues, including the World Harp Congresses in Prague and Amsterdam; Meiji University, The New York Qin Society, the Fifth Symposium for Music Archaeology, and at Berlin, Columbia, Princeton and Harvard Universities. She was awarded a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council during 2007 - 2008, and a grant from the Rohm Music Foundation in 2007. Along the Silk Road is Sugawara’s third recording. Her first, Spring, features her work as a soloist on the concert harp and her second, East Meets West (1998,) was an improvisational duo collaboration with saxophonist Sanshiro Fujimoto. A musician with a taste for adventures in all styles, Ms. Sugawara recently performed in the ensemble of jazz bass legend Charnett Moffett for his upcoming Motema release, Treasure. (May 2010)
Ms. Sugawara will support the release of Along The Silk Road with solo performances as well as in duo and trio configurations with the musicians on the record, the world famous flautist, Robert Dick and Turkish hand drum master and ethno musicologist, Ozan Aksoy. Alone or in ensemble, Ms. Sugawara and her Kugo provide an enchanting, meditative excursion through many cultures, moods and ages. Her partner and manager, music archeologist Bo Lawergren augments her performances with amusing anecdotes and painted illustrations of the Kugo from various historical contexts.