Since first hearing Nick Takénobu Ogawa’s album Exposition this past summer, I’ve been a fan of this versatile cellist. I was surprised and excited to discover his December release of an album based on a famous Japanese folktale I grew up with.

Cover of "Momotaro" (Art by Iris Scott)

Japanese folktale hero Momotaro’s (Peach Boy) life begins inside a giant peach floating downstream, where he’s found and raised by a kind elderly couple. After growing up, he successfully subdues the fierce ogres of Oni Island with the help of a dog, monkey, and pheasant—and magical millet dumplings. Triumphant, Momotaro and his companions bring home riches, and they all live happily ever after.

Cellist Nick Takénobu Ogawa’s instrumental album Momotaro lovingly retells this story from his childhood. Sensitively composed and performed though it is, Momotaro isn’t really a children’s album. It’s a serious set of compositions well suited for fans of contemporary classical and electro-acoustic music.

Nick Takénobu Ogawa live in concert (Kate Orne)

A one-man ensemble, Ogawa (or simply Takénobu on stage) uses a laptop and loop pedal to create intricate layers of staccato and rippling sound. It’s Ogawa, and only Ogawa on this album, although the looping technique gives the illusion of multiple performers.

Each track depicts a scene or character from the story, with the opening song track conveying the loneliness of the childless couple before they adopt Momotaro. For the first few measures, Ogawa plucks the strings of his cello to resemble the pentatonic sound of a koto. The song builds into intense bowing before transitioning into the lighter moment when Momotaro’s peach appears.

The album’s tracks are composed to flow seamlessly from one into another, which they do with just one barely perceptible pause in between. For example, the excitement of the “Voyage Home,” when Momotaro and his companions sail back across the sea from Oni Island, blossoms into the victorious-sounding “Hero’s Welcome.”

Ogawa’s Momotaro is a short, but lovely album that’s a good introduction to his music. He also sings on several tracks on his two earlier albums, which are absolutely worth checking out.

I look forward to seeing what Ogawa does on his next cello-bending album, and hope to catch him in concert on the West Coast one day.

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