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Kathryn Claire is the kind of name you expect to find in Irish music. She is a tremendous fiddle player and singer. Hanz Araki is most definitely not the type of name you expect to run across in the music. He is a tremendous wooden flute player and singer. Together, these two Yanks from the northwest corner of America are revolutionizing the Irish music business, as we speak. Let’s begin with this basic observation. Their albums are wonderfully entertaining and beautifully put together.

We know. We know. We’re supposed to be all kinds of “objective’ journalists about these things, and of course, none of us are. These two are magic together. This is where we’re supposed to give you the title of the cd. Here’s the problem and here’s the revolution which these two are bringing to town. Within roughly one year, this duo has released FOUR cd’s, and they are all totally entertaining all the way through. Four? Within a year? Yup. Count ‘em. “Songs of Love and Murder”, “Winter Solstice”, “As I Roved Out: Songs of Spring” and “The Emigrant’s Song/ The Laborer’s Lament.” You and I both know how unprecedented this is. We think of iconic names in history of the music like Moving Cloud and Reeltime. In the entire career of both of those bands, each released only two albums. Hanz and Kathryn have stunned the Irish music world by doing four in one year. Remember, each of these albums is richly textured, beautifully performed traditional music. To anyone involved with Irish trad in any way, this sounds as if it would be impossible. Four brand new studio albums this fast. What to talk about? How strong they are musically? Or the business/technical aspects of this kind of achievement? Let’s try both.

Artistically. Both Hanz and Kathryn come from musical families. Hanz’s father was a professional musician and master of the shakuhachi—a type of bamboo flute. Hanz studied that instrument also, growing up in that musical tradition. While starting his musical career in the 80’s in Japan, Hanz discovered Irish music. The long and short of it is, that through people like piper, Tom Creegan, and other musicians such at Matt Malloy and Mary Bergin, added to singers such as Niamh Parsons, June Tabor, and Maura O’Connell, he was hooked. His first album in 2005, “Six In One” resulted in his being named “New Artist of the Year” on LiveIreland.com. Kathryn’s family were all musicians and singers, though none of them performed professionally. That magical “family history” thing. Hanz and Kathryn are now full-time, professional musicians.

There are different and distinct geographical headquarters for Irish trad in America. Traditional hubs such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Minneapolis are joined by North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest as centers of influence for the music. In that Portland-Seattle corridor, Hanz and Kathryn met at sessions, at gigs, and the rest is rapidly becoming musical history. By the way, for the record, Kathryn lists June Tabor, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez as major vocal influences for her style. Also, it should be noted that Hanz is indeed going to be playing the shakuhachi on an upcoming Irish album that is currently in production. Hanz comments, “Both Kathryn and I have had tremendous amounts of influences on our musical approaches. I think it’s an advantage to also have the Japanese background and Kathryn’s intense classical training to broaden our approaches to the music.” As great players like Kevin Burke have discovered, it is a natural step from classical to Irish. Agreeing, Kathryn states, “Hanz is right about the huge number of influences we both have, and we try to use every one of them!” The two offer solo vocal works in these albums as well as tight harmonies on classics such as “Pleasant and Delightful.”

As wonderful as these albums are, taken in toto, the fact that there are four cd’s finished and available within one year is stunning and unprecedented. Rest assured that if these two get the artistic reception they deserve, their business model and method of production is going to rock trad music to its roots. As you read this, realize that every musician, producer, and agent in Irish music is also reading this and is desperate to know how this has been done, and at what cost.

Hanz further adds, “We record the albums mostly live. That means little overdubbing taking up valuable studio time or experimenting on different tracks. We rehearse and rehearse until we have it down the way we want it and walk into the studio to record it in one or two takes. We make it as perfect as we can. It's easy to go down the rabbit-hole of editing 20-30 takes and experimenting with different sounds, except that while you're having that fun, the clock is ticking and expenses are multiplied.” Kathryn concludes, “When we hit the studio, we are 100% ready to do business.”.

Add to this model of recording, (which many claim, but few if any achieve) the duo has discovered another benefit to having these albums available as a set. “We know that no one can afford to buy all four cd’s at one concert, but we have them there. We do entire concerts around each album. So at Christmas we can do our Christmas show and be playing from ‘Winter Solstice’ which is what our audience would hopefully want to buy that night.”

Kathryn again concludes, ”From our concerts and album sales, we have already completely covered the cost of manufacture and production of our first two cd’s and will have the cost covered on the next two by year’s end.”

The revolution is here. This is one of those seminal moments in the music. Two great artists have done something never done before, and it has worked. Think of it. Four albums within a year. Total expenses paid within a year. This is staggering within any form of music, never mind Irish trad. A new path is being opened. Rest assured that the Irish music world is paying deep attention and the light has been turned on. All credit to the progenitors of this magical bit of business, Kathryn Claire and Hanz Araki.

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Tags: Araki, Hanz

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Comment by Glenn S Fermoyle on August 26, 2012 at 23:09

Thank you for this post, Bill.

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