Riley Lee

The American-born Riley Lee has evolved a brand of delicate flute music that draws deep inspiration from Zen Buddhism. Lee is widely respected as a master of the Japanese shakuhachi flute and he was the first non-Japanese to ever attain the rank of "grand master" of the instrument.

artist:
Riley Lee

country of origin:
USA/Australia

style(s):
Japanese folk, devotional, ethno-ambient, new age

decades active:
80's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Satori [with Gabriel Lee] (1981, Enso)
  • Oriental Sunrise [with Gabriel Lee] (1991, Narada)
  • Wild Honey Dreaming [with Matthew Doyle] (1993, New World)
  • Fountain Of Light [with Jim Franklin] (1993, New World)

Reviewed by Mike G

The American-born Riley Lee has evolved a brand of delicate flute music that draws deep inspiration from Zen Buddhism. Lee is widely respected as a master of the Japanese shakuhachi flute and he was the first non-Japanese to ever attain the rank of "grand master" of the instrument. His sound first attracted new age audiences in the 1980's and he has since grown a devoted worldwide following.

There's plenty of worthy albums in Lee's discography; the ones listed above are all from fairly early in his recording career and are the best place to start.

The beautiful Satori (1981) and Oriental Sunrise (1991) are the best of his early albums and the pick of his "pure" and most Zen-sounding recordings. His brother Gabriel Lee accompanies him on koto to create uniformly slow music that is gentle, reflective and at times extremely quiet. 

Soon after moving to Australia in the 90's, Lee recorded some fine collaborations with local musicians for UK label New World (a label otherwise known for its dreadful new age muzak). Wild Honey Dreaming (1993) is a striking and at times lively combination of shakuhachi flute with Matthew Doyle’s didgeridoo, and Fountain Of Light (1993) with Jim Franklin is a rich, subtle melange of flute, synthesisers and electronic effects. During this period Lee also appeared with Australian multi-instrumentalists Michael Atherton and Michael Askill on the outstanding world music/ethno ambient album Shoalhaven Rise (1995).

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