Kitaro picks up the path of his sacred journey through Shikoku, an island that has 88 temples, each with its own distinct temple bells. The Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai, Volume 3, is the latest in a projected multi-disc series in which the Japanese keyboardist has been recording those bells and working them into the matrix of his music. Taking its name from Kukai, a Japanese monk and founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism in the 9th century, the series follows a path that gets more languid with each album. The synthesist has jettisoned most of the sappy strings that marred his previous journeys, opting for floating, ambient spaces centered around organic sounds. "Crystal Winds" might be the most carefully formed, albeit rhythm-free and melodically amorphous track Kitaro has composed in years. It builds from a floating array of Native American flute, zithers, Balinese gamelan, temple bells, and harmonic singing merging into filter-swept synthesizer before a brief santoor melody is teased out of it. It's not long before Kitaro tosses in electric-guitar leads on the grandiose sweep of "After the Rain," replete with his patented whooping Korg lead lines. If he'd left out the sampled choirs and strings, it might've risen above generic easy-listening new age, which is still preferable to "Winds Blow over the Hill," a thinly veiled lift from his own Silk Road that makes it sound like a score for a sanatorium. But Kitaro redeems himself with the last two tracks, a hypnotic jam with some uncharacteristically raving guitar over a sequencer ostinato called "Voice in Blue," and "Circle Dance," a ritualistic piece for bells, flute, and what sounds like metal mixing bowls. I kept looking into the kitchen to see if my wife was making something, but I liked the way it added three-dimensionality to the piece. With The Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai, Volume 3, Kitaro gives us hope that the trek might be worth continuing.