Hiroya Tsukamoto is a phenomenal talent, a Japanese fingerpicker, composer, and Berklee College alum who was also second-place winner at the 2018 International Finger Style Guitar Championship. Now based in New York City, 18 years after leaving Kyoto, he’s on the road virtually every weekend, playing solo with just a Martin OM-42 and a set of looping pedals.
Window to the World catches Tsukamoto at one of those many performances, a 2019 live-in-the-studio gig in Brunswick, Maine. The Martin sounds crisp, the room feels warmly intimate, and the fingerpicking is delicate, fluid, and beautifully detailed. Two folk songs, the Okinawan “Asadoyayunta” and the Scottish “Water is Wide,” show the comforting breathiness of his voice and the outer edges of his guitar playing: staccato and lyrical, precise and passionate, solo and layered. The rest of the pieces are travelogues filled with sumptuous arpeggios and soaring improvisations, impressionist landscapes of canyons, coastlines, and mountains that recall the sweetest, gentlest memories of the places he’s been and the people he’s met.
In the longest song, the expansive 11-minute “Storytelling,” Tsukamoto shares an unexpected encounter with a Buddhist monk in the hills of Tennessee, singing his story in both Japanese and English to encompass the miles he’s covered since moving to the States. “I’ve been traveling along from the east to the west,” he sings in a mantra of journey and discovery, a quiet nod to the poet Basho. “I’ve been traveling along to find myself, to find my way.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.