Piano variations: Meet Masako

Back in my teenage years, I had a brief love affair with what is commonly called "new age" music. One of my high school science teachers, Julia Simmons (hello, Julia, wherever you are!), turned me on to Andreas Vollenweider, Kitaro, George Winston and Liz Story. If there was a whiff of Windham Hill Records about it, I was all over it. Then my musical taste turned a little more goth – Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie & The Banshees, This Mortal Coil, etc. Out of all those new age musicians, pianist and composer Liz Story is the one who stuck with me. Mainly because Story transcends the touchy-feely "elevator music" reputation that new age music became known for after the craze passed in the '90s. Story's 1986 album Part of Fortune is one of the reasons I still own a turntable.

That brings me to Masako, whose self-titled debut album was produced by Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman and has been highly praised by Story. Masako is a Japanese-born piano prodigy now living in New England and the mood she sets with her compositions absolutely reminds me of Story. As I said in my first "piano variations" post, music is a must for me when I'm writing. Listening to music with lyrics often distracts writers, but it doesn't bother me. However, a good instrumental is sometimes just what I need and Masako's album delivers. There's a wistfulness and melancholy about the album, especially on tracks like "Forgotten Memories," "A Tale of Lonely Otter" and the two-part cycle called "Remembrance." It's almost like the soundtrack for an unmade film. Elsewhere, there are more uplifting tracks like "The Secret Path to Point Reyes Part 2," which transports you to a sun-dappled walk to the beach, and the spirited "Ottauquechee River." "Moon and Stream" is a gorgeous lullaby, while "Glastenbury, VT" is simply jazzy and cool – the soundtrack to a snowy winter day with a glass of wine and a good book (watch the video below).

It's been said before, but what Masako stands out is the fluidity of her playing and the control she has over her hands, but since I don't know all the technicalities of the piano, let me just focus on her composition. They are, in a word, elegant. There's nothing fussy here – just simple, emotionally- driven music designed to take you out of your own world for an hour. Take the journey.

Find out more about Masako and purchase the album at her website or on Amazon or iTunes.


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