Album: Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Maher On Water, Geographic

Like virtually every land visited by TV travel-programme presenters, the Japanese art-folk collective Maher Shalal Hash Baz is a study in contrasts – or, more accurately, extremes. Having taken three years to complete the 83-song set Return Visit to Rock Mass, it's perhaps understandable that MSHB songwriter Tori Kudo and his accomplices should want to kick back a little with Maher on Water, whose 10 tracks will occupy a mere 16 minutes of your life. Except that, like all the best music, those 16 minutes could stretch out for the rest of your life. Modest, simple and occasionally fumbling (one of the band's principles is that anyone can play with Maher), these pieces are delightful musical netsuke, picked out in eccentric combinations of tuba, acoustic guitar, accordion and what sounds like bass clarinet or bassoon. Some, such as the naïve keyboard instrumental "Good Morning" and the 55-second tuba/shakuhachi duet, "Extinguished Bird", are little more than outline sketches of tunes, ungainly and halting. "Watery Source for Chaldeans" is just 22 seconds of bubbling water and small percussion. But there's a minimal, distinctly Japanese, charm to them that lingers long in the mind. The liquid theme is sustained throughout, most successfully in the lovely "Stone in the River", which is so effective you don't even mind when they include a live version later on.