ERI SUGAI; "Mai" (Pacific Moon). ** 1/2

Vocalist/composer Eri Sugai is like a Japanese version of the Celtic queen of New Age, Enya.

Sugai's voice has the same lucid quality and is very crystalline when comes to her flowing arrangements.

However, there is more to Sugai than meets the ear. She is one of the first vocalists to arrange some traditional Japanese hymns to include melody.

Hearing Sugai's sonorous soprano is like walking into a warm, misty dream. Her ode to the sun "Horizon" starts her most recent album "Mai" like a sunrise begins a new day. And when the listener gets to the soothing "First Love," Sugai has found a way to manipulate her voice to sound like the Chinese stringed instrument called the niko.

The title track actually brings to mind a mixing of Japanese and East-African chanting, complete with a celebratory percussion line.

Still, the album, as beautiful as it is in places, can only be heard through pacing. There are times when the lush arrangements become tedious.

SHAO RONG; "Orchid" (Pacific Moon). ***

The Chinese lute or pipa has a sound as crisp as its European counterpart. But there is more of a focus on the pentatonic tones the pipa emits that makes it a tad stronger.

In the hands of Shao Rong, the pipa becomes like a classical guitar. Her album "Orchid" displays her emotional musicality.

"Wild Rose" and "Bamboo Dance" are a couple of the ways Rong's playing can become a flirtatious, slow-motion run through the grass.

"A Day Goes By" and "True Love" contain shades of contemporary New Age pop with an Asian flair.

This is a gentle, unobtrusive album with exotic, imaginative harmonies that are guaranteed to bring a little Zen into a hectic world.


E-MAIL: scott@desnews.com