Favorite Icon, Full size
Album Review: Call of the Mountains - Ascent
Cover image of the album Call of the Mountains - Ascent by Masako
Call of the Mountains - Ascent
2023 / Masako Music
66 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Call of the Mountains - Ascent is the seventh album from pianist/composer Masako. I have been fortunate enough to review all of her albums since her 2012 debut, Masako, and have loved every release - including this one! Masako has won numerous awards for her music, and her 2020 album, Hidden Flowers, earned Zone Music Reporter's "Album of the Year" and "Best Piano with Instrumentation" awards for that year. Masako has co-produced all of her albums with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, and all but one of them also feature the stellar cast of back-up musicians from Imaginary Road Studio (her 2017 album, Piano Sanctuary, was solo piano). Nine of the fourteen tracks on Call of the Mountains - Ascent are solo piano and the other five are piano with additional instrumentation.

Born in Japan with extensive training in both classical music and jazz, Masako now lives in the Northeastern USA. Most of her music has been inspired by nature, and she says that she has always loved forests, mountains, streams and meadows. Quoting Masako: "When I was a kid living in Japan, I remember often exploring the nearby mountains with my younger sister and the neighborhood kids....My desire to play in the mountains conflicted with my daily piano practice, but I needed both." Masako broke her leg a couple of years ago and started walking trails near her home as part of her recovery. "Now I mainly walk in mountains over 4k foot in New Hampshire, USA." Many of the tracks on the album were inspired by those walks.

Call of the Mountains - Ascent begins with "Calling," a reference to the invitation Masako feels every day to go and explore, and the happiness she feels when she gets there. A piano and cello (Eugene Friesen) duet, the piece beautifully expresses both the peace and the majesty of being in nature. "Final Ascent" expresses what hikers on the Northbound Appalachian Trail feel as they start climbing the last mountain on the trail. A blend of awe, exhilaration and perseverance, this beautiful piece features piano, cello, percussion (Jeff Haynes), wordless vocals (Noah Wilding), EWI (Premik Russell Tubbs), and synths (Tom Eaton). "Elusive" is a graceful piano solo ode to the mysteries of nature. "Conifers" is also solo piano and describes the easy, graceful movement of trees in a breeze. "Embraced By Green" brings in the ensemble, this time with violin (Charlie Bisharat), percussion, horn (Jeff Oster), vocals, and bass (Tom Eaton). Solitude can be a wonderful escape or it can bring loneliness and sadness. The piano solo with that title definitely refers to the first kind of "Solitude." Light, airy and joyful, yet pensive and reflective it's a favorite (actually, they're all favorites!). Also a piano solo, Masako describes "Traverse": "Crossing the ridge that runs between high mountains is not easy. It’s often dangerous in fact, but the view from there is out of this world." A variety of themes are seamlessly woven together to tell the story. "Swift River" is a delightful piano solo that very effectively describes the rapid flow of water with sunlight dancing on its surface, as well as the peaceful ease of water moving slowly, sometimes relaxed and sometimes more purposeful. I'd love to know the story behind "How To Calm a Bear" as I doubt Masako takes a piano on her hikes! The piece itself is solo piano and is definitely calming and smooth. "Deepening Autumn" is my favorite piece on the album and brings images of leaves drifting gracefully to the ground as the temperatures start to chill. Masako makes wonderful use of the deep bass of the piano, adding much darker tonal colors to the bright autumn palette. The album closes with the solo piano "Lady's Slipper" which refers to a subfamily of orchids, not hiking shoes! Delicate and very beautiful, it's a great ending to a great album!

Masako has created another masterpiece with Call of the Mountains - Ascent! CDs are available from her website and Amazon; MP3s are available from Amazon and Apple Music/ iTunes, and it is also available on many streaming sites. If you love beautiful piano music inspired by nature, don't miss this one!
February 14, 2023
More reviews of Masako albums
Cover image of the album The Gathering by Masako
(contributing artist)
Cover image of the album The Gathering II by Masako
(contributing artist)