In chanoyu, the Zen-based Japanese tea ceremony, one strives to realize four guiding principles: wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (purity), and ultimately, the highest level of existence, jaku (peace and tranquillity). In the grand scheme of things, you could certainly say that Tokyo-born beatmaster and soundscaper DJ Krush has reached such a rarified plane over the course of twenty years behind the decks and samplers -- a back catalogue packed with visionary hip-hop, trip-hop, and ambient works is testament to that.
On jaku, the 41-year-old's eighth solo album, Krush's combination of beats (some slippery, some direct and austere) with strings, murky samples, and traditional Japanese instruments could be the soundtrack to a Far East version of Blade Runner. Opener "Still Island" establishes that futuristic-noir motif with back-alley symphonics, a scampering jungle rhythm, and mysterious shakuhachi bamboo flute exhalations. "The Beginning" follows a similar plot -- an even more dramatic drum rumble and ominous synth moans pull you further into this grim-but-scintillating underworld -- while "Slit of Cloud" launches with a chillingly wailed recitation of a Japanese poem before renowned saxophonist Akira Sakata tears through a solo against a looped beat and lush, echoey effects.
Although he mostly distances himself from the minimalist style that has characterized past albums, Krush retains an expert command of space and separation here, so jaku's instrumental passages never feel sluggish or overproduced. Of the two tracks featuring guest rappers, the sinister "Nosferatu" -- featuring Mr. Lif's ice-veined rhymes -- is more satisfying than "Kill Switch," in which Aesop Rock's admirable but over-enunciated flow doesn't fit all that effectively with the darkly elegant backdrop. That's a minor quibble; jaku as a whole is a masterful effort, and Krush remains one of the most enlightened DJs around.
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