Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Warning! This post has too many metaphors...

Last week, in a surprise move, Kodo played a gig in Nara-ken. The event was Tenkyo-sai, held every year amongst the ancient burial mounds in Asuka. This festival is the showcase of Yamato Daiko, essentially their scaled down version of Earth Celebration. I'd been wanting to see Yamato for about a decade now. And I wasn't disappointed. Young taiko groups tend to overemphasize flashy movements in an attempt to hide lack of power, but Yamato has both, dynamic, well-choreographed moves and a full sound which strikes the listener in the chest where it should. Their handling of bachi is incredible, with sticking so high that it'd get you penalty time in the NHL. Over half the group is women, equal in power to the men. Strangely, they all have big boobs and even bigger hair. Essentially, they're from New Jersey. One song has them all playing shamisen, knocking hell out of the things in a frenzied jam. Another number features the two lead male players, in sort of a drum battle. During this piece, they keep rolling out bigger and bigger drums in a mockery of the arms race. Then by the end, both players begin to harmonize, finishing with a handshake. Very Japanese.

Then Kodo came on. They are currently in the midst of a full tour, and as this gig seemed a mere hiccup, we got a younger, more stripped down version of the group. But blazing just the same. While Yamato may have power, Kodo has POWER. Plus their playing had the usual finesse; move subtle, more tradition. This younger Kodo was missing all of the older, pre-apprentice program stars but one, the one I call Mohawk Boy. During one piece he was at the end of a five person drum line. The other four, all former apprentices, had identical sticking exact to the millimeter. Only he was slightly different. Marcin has a theory that Kodo's apprentice program is creating almost an assembly line of drummers, at the risk of creativity. I agree, but feel that this is making for some incredibly precise stage shows, something I've noticed over the past few years. While the live shows will get better and better, future CDs will no doubt suffer. Think Grateful Dead. (Sorry Mickey Hart, dude!) On stage or off, Kodo doesn't need the flash of the younger groups since the music is what has always driven audience emotion. (Think European film vs. Hollywood.) A testiment to drumming's shamanic role.

Prior to the fireworks show which closed the festival, the two groups combined to perform "Zoku." Here the differences were glaring. Yamato members looked like kids, jumping around, while Kodo, the elders, played solid and steady. (Or, a flashback to the 2002 Soccer World Cup: workman Germany against the "play" of Brazil.)

It's OK kids, the food is just as tasty at the small table, but the conversation doesn't resonate as long...

On the turntable: Aki Ueda, "Invisible Visions"
On the nighttable: Joseph Svinth, "Getting a Grip"

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