Bruce Huebner & Eien Hunter-Ishikawa

“Jazz Meets Zen.  The duo of Eien and Bruce features the calming tones of the traditional Japanese shakuhachi and vibraphone in an improvisational, modern context.” - I. K.

The Bruce-Eien duet is a unique trans-Pacific project created to perform original compositions, Japanese traditional music, and jazz.  The unusual pairing of the shakuhachi and vibraphone enables a wide range of musical expression.  Bruce and Eien’s extensive work in cross-cultural collaborations allows their music to elude boundaries while staying true to the richness of traditional forms and melodies.  The group played their debut show in Tokyo in December 2014.

Bruce Huebner - shakuhachi
Eien Hunter-Ishikawa - vibraphone

Bruce's website here

What audiences are saying:

"Listening to this concert gave me a very peaceful feeling.  I didn’t know that these two instruments would blend so well, and the shakuhachi sounded very gentle." - C. M.

“The vibraphone and shakuhachi collaboration I heard last December was wonderful. I was surprised to learn that Eien is not only a taiko drummer but also a vibraphonist and on top of that a composer.  Keep up the performing and please come to Japan again!” - T. I.

"The whole concert in Tokyo was excellent.  I’m sure that Eien’s sensitive musical performance will resonate in the heart any listener."
- E. S.

“The distinctive pairing of shakuhachi and vibraphone created a very pleasant and relaxing feeling. It’s wonderful that Eien’s collaborations combine the vibraphone with an ancient Japanese instrument.  I look forward to seeing more of Eien’s work in the future.” - H. O.

"Even now, I can remember the beautiful music that the duo created.  I especially liked the tune called June.  Watching the YouTube videos brought me back to that delightful concert." - M. Y.

”The resonance of the shakuhachi within the bare concrete walls was pleasant to hear.  The variety of timbre coming from the bamboo nodes of the shakuhachi complemented the harmony from the ringing bars of the vibraphone.  In particular their rendition of “Scarborough Fair” left an impression on me; the natural vibrato of the shakuhachi brought out the simplicity of the song’s melody.”
- M. I.

Photo credit: Bryan Smith

Photo credit: Bryan Smith

Sample repertoire:
Edo Komori Uta (traditional)

Itsuki Komori Uta (traditional)
Oborozukiyo (traditional)
Sakura (traditional)
Nada Sousou (Begin/Ryoko Moriyama)
Icarus (Ralph Towner)
Sea Journey (Chick Corea)
Scarborough Fair (traditional)
Danny Boy (traditional)

Mononoke Hime (Joe Hisaishi)
Kaze no Toori Michi (Joe Hisaishi)
Can’t Find My Way Home (Steve Winwood)
Going to California (Page/Plant)
Kashmir (Page/Plant/Bonham)
No Quarter (Page/Plant)

Highway 395 (Bruce Huebner)
Run (Eien Hunter-Ishikawa)
Ties (Eien Hunter-Ishikawa)
Distance (Eien Hunter-Ishikawa)
June (Eien Hunter-Ishikawa)


Bruce Huebner
Shakuhachi player Bruce Huebner has over 30 years experience of study, performing, composition and music production in Japan. In 1991 he was the first non-Japanese to graduate from the prestigious Tokyo University of Arts where he studied Kinko School shakuhachi under Yamaguchi Goro (National Treasure) as a Monbusho Scholar. After receiving his mastership he has founded jazz and world music projects that have recorded, toured and performed at Kyoto Concert Hall, New York Blue Note, Joe’s Pub, The Toronto Jazz Festival and Yokohama Motion Blue.   In 2007 he began the popular "Cherry Blossom Tours" with koto player Curtis Patterson and in 2011 his "Zabu Tone Music" label released their eighth CD, "ZUI.” He is a also a musical spokesman who has appeared on NHK BS TV, Tedx, Nihon TV, and he has conducted numerous lecture concerts in schools, community centres, clubs, temples, and colleges, including Rome University, Kent State,  St Lawrence University, New York, and the University of British Columbia. He has performed over 80 “Going Home” concerts in Tohoku since the earthquake and tsunami of 3/11.

Eien Hunter-Ishikawa
Eien Hunter-Ishikawa is a musician and educator based in Portland, Oregon specializing in drumset, taiko, and shinobue.  He earned his Bachelor of Music Education at Central Michigan University, where he performed, recorded, and toured as a member of the Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble under the direction of the late Robert Hohner, and earned his Master of Music Performance at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  During his time in Honolulu, Eien performed and toured extensively as a member of the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble throughout the United States and Europe and taught classes at the Taiko Center of the Pacific, a school of traditional and contemporary taiko.  He is a member of On Ensemble, and performs with shakuhachi artist Bruce Huebner in a shakuhachi/vibraphone duet.  

Eien has worked with shakuhachi artist Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos, dancer Colleen Lanki, Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra, tsugaru shamisen artist Hiroshi Yamaguchi, sho artist Naomi Sato, Michael O'Neill's bagpipe ensemble Mearingstone, and Vancouverʼs Silk Road Music.  He has performed at the North American Taiko Conference, Vancouver’s Powell Street Festival, Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Dancing on the Edge Festival, Hawaii International Taiko Festival, Honolulu International Jazz Festival, and the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival.  In addition to teaching online lessons, Eien has presented workshops at the North American Taiko Conference, World Taiko Gathering, Taiko Baka Gathering, Fue of the Bay, Pacific Northwest Regional Taiko Gathering, and Asano Taiko US.

Interview with Bruce and Eien

Q:  What is the impetus for starting this duo?
Eien: We are like-minded musicians striving to create music that doesn’t fit neatly into one category.  I felt an immediate kinship when we first met, probably due to both of us having one foot in Japanese and Western cultures as well as the kind of music we like.

Bruce: While we are based so far apart, Yokohama for me and Portland for Eien, across the Pacific, we are striving in our respective scenes and then when we make the long trips the collaboration is fresh. The logistics of the transpacific duo are daunting, but already in less than a year a lot has been achieved.

Q: For example?
Bruce: Fall of 2014. One evening,  on the tail end of a very hard-working set of concerts in Vancouver for a contemporary music project, where we first met as sidemen, we spontaneously mowed through a bunch of world and jazz material, and it was so fun and natural.  When Eien made the trip to Japan a few months later we were actually able to act on those “let’s do this again” hard-to-keep promises. We put together a show in Tokyo, in Ginza, right at Christmas. Many thanks to our respective families by the way for all their help. 

Q: Vibes and shakuhachi. This seems like quite a leap. 
Bruce: Metal and bamboo. Jazz roots and Buddhist mendicant music roots. The attack and decay of the mallets, and the swell of the breath instrument, for me as a shakuhachi player the cushion of the vibes is… really cushy. The tone colors are contrasting each other and making the other player sound even better. 

Eien: There are interesting challenges for this combination of instruments.  It takes some thought to arrange Japanese melodies, jazz and rock tunes, and original compositions in a way that works.  Improvisation is a big part of our music.

Q: Eien is also a traditional Taiko drummer. 
Bruce: Eien has dual musicianship having his Japanese parentage and upbringing and all the training in Japanese music, as well as his projects with Japanese groups. So he intuitively understands the power of Japanese flutes. For me its a real pleasure to have all this respect and understanding.  

Eien: I also play the shinobue, a horizontal Japanese bamboo flute often used in taiko ensembles as well as for festival music.  Studying traditional music has deepened my musicianship and provided invaluable insight for these types of collaborations.

Q: The shakuhachi is quintessentially “Japanese.” So how does it go in a jazz context?
Eien: I see more and more  so-called ethnic instruments being used outside of their traditional context, and figuring out how to do this is a fun challenge for us.  We play tunes we like, but we always need to consider the limitations of four mallets, three octaves, and a piece of bamboo with holes.

Bruce: The unique construction of the shakuhachi gives the player great freedom.  A huge embouchure hole and bore make it like a “fretless flute,” and the traditional music, which I have been fortunate to study these 30 years in Japan, is rich in portamento, timbral explorations, and introspectiveness. If one could apply some of that in the jazz, wow what possibilities! 

Q: What kind of music are you performing? 
Bruce: We both are enjoying hearing our respective compositions in this new context. Eien’s tunes, quite complex rhythmically, encourage me to float, and the beautiful touch of the metal make the shakuhachi melodies sophisticated; there is the traditional style of shakuhachi phrasing, so its win, win. We want to do more extended improvisation, and when one of us plays a traditional solo I think the audience will hear it in a new way as well, bookended as it is with modern. We’ll also cherry pick arrangements of Japanese songs and jazz standards. 

Eien: Recently I have been getting inspiration from some of the music I listened to early in my musical growth such as Led Zeppelin, Blind Faith, Bob Marley, and David Bowie.  Making a cohesive program out of such an eclectic mix of tunes might not be easy but we’ll give it a shot anyway!

Q What is your goal for this West Coast US tour?
Eien: We are looking forward to playing fun music and introducing our unique sound to new audiences.  I’m also hoping to build relationships that will help us book future tours.  Hanging out with Bruce is always a blast!

Bruce: The road is always a crucible, and after 30 years in Japan I am going as a sort of visitor to my own home country? With a Japanese instrument in hand? A unique experience, and with Eien it is sure to be a lot of pleasure making music.