- Purl Ground, for marimba
Kuniko Kato, who goes by the single name Kuniko, is an emerging Japanese marimba and vibraphone virtuosa who stirred up considerable attention with her 2011 release kuniko plays reich. Cantus, which is curiously named, expands on the transcription ideas developed for the earlier release. Kuniko sets out to expand the sonic vocabulary of her percussion instruments through the use of various mallets and strike techniques. This is an extremely intriguing idea, for latter-day developments in minimalist music have involved experiments with extending its range without losing its basic aesthetic. Kuniko thus hits a certain sweet spot, and it's no surprise to learn that all three of the composers featured here -- Arvo Pärt, Reich once again, and British minimalist Hywel Davies -- supervised and approved of Kuniko's arrangements. At times it is hard to believe you're hearing just a single marimba (additional instruments, all played by Kuniko, appear on only three pieces). In Reich's "New York Counterpoint" the marimba emits eerily clarinet-like sounds. But perhaps the strongest performances are those of Pärt's music, where Kuniko keeps the sounds a bit simpler and lets the instrument flower into the resonances that are at the heart of the composer's brand of minimalism. It is no wonder the elderly Pärt liked these renditions, which extend his language in a totally ingenious and musical way. The final "Spiegel im Spiegel" (Mirror in Mirror) is haunting, and the entire album is essential listening for anyone with the slightest interest in contemporary percussion.