A Little World

Boiled egg yolks everywhere remind you to appreciate the moon in Autumn. Soon you won't be able to see it. Winter nights are bitter and cloudy and no one bothers looking up. The man doesn't live there, don't you know? Just two forest rabbits pounding mochi (sticky rice cake) with a wooden mallet. Mackerel and suri are at their fattest now. Persimmons gleam against olive-colored branches like drops of coral blood. Flavors get richer, colors deepen and people get sad.

My thoughts were always miles away from despair. I was raised on Halloween, dammit. I was also fortunate enough to live a stone's throw away from New England and the constant smell of woodsmoke, cider doughnuts, orange pumpkins, harvest hay rides. The turning of the season is a somewhat more melancholy affair but by no means less pleasurable.

This cover of the jazz standard 'Autumn Leaves' (translated here as 'kareha' 枯葉 or 'Dead Leaves') is sung in convincing French by ma cher pomme (yes, Shiina Ringo). A time of dying may be just cause for sorrow but that doesn't mean we can't make out. Or sigh and clutch yellowing photographs. Ringo's voice is not rich or smoky even when she's putting on a foreign accent. I don't believe my apple was out to redefine the song but she did. The digital background is cold and plastic. It doesn't make me sad at all.

Like sakura in Spring, the emergence of the scarlet star-shaped leaves called momiji are eagerly anticipated. Naturally, the Japanese have a song for them. Aiko Shimada sings with a voice as shimmery as the koto accompanying her.

There is something both eerie and sorrowful about Japanese traditional songs. It is perfectly genius the way they brush upon both but never quite lean one way or the other. The Japanese are fond of the gray spaces, the in-between colors of emotion and sound. Aiko's cover of this Edo lullaby doesn't so much lull as it makes me think in cliches. One pluck (courtesy of Elizabeth Falconer) and, ridiculously, all I see are samurai. Oh yes it even pulls that rippling Asian gimmick. Wait for it, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

But let's disassociate from the sound. I'll tell you the words. The singer might be mother or some other person not expected to care for an infant of the time. It's dark as were the ages. There's smoke or at least its scent, burning useless embers. It's still drafty in these houses of paper and wood and the baby frets.

She tells the child he is good and coaxes him to sleep. She wonders where his nurse or komori (子-ko, child 守りmori, protect) has gone. Perhaps to her home village in the mountains, yes that is where she has gone. What do you suppose she'll bring back for you? A soft flute sighs in the breeze.

I recall discovering Aiko Shimada around the same time I discovered Hem. As a solo artist, she has a voice that makes itself comfortable in many sofas. At times she is shades of Bjork at a less explosive pace, atmospheric with no end in sight. Just a gauzy stream of consciousness that takes you wherever you want it to--the next dimension, the shadowed realm of Morpheus, across the street.

As providence would have it, she has an Autumn Song. She could do with just the guitar but she dresses it up modestly with a faint zither and a crisp breeze. Like the lullaby of old, she sings an elegant ode to an end.

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