Tuesday, February 10, 2009

North and South

Soul Flower Mononoke Summit was in town again, with Ainu musician Oki as the opening act.  I've long been wanting catch him live, after hearing his timeless beauty on "The Rough Guide to Japan" CD.  On stage he was a lone man with his thick bodied Tonkori,  cradling this bulky, 5-stringed log like a baby while finger-picking high notes with his right hand, picking the low end with his left.   The sound it made went beyond deep, to thick, to dense.  From the opening notes I was enchanted, swept away somewhat to the music native to my New Mexico home.  Other times I found myself amongst the high grass on the Siberian Steppe, the effect enhanced by the cicada-like chirping of someone's cell phone vibrating on a table nearby.  I had spent the weekend watching Scorsese's documentary series on The Blues, so there were also moments where I was on the Mississippi Delta, or in the deserts of Mali.   (Interesting how such an obscure style of music can draw comparisons from around the world.) 

To buffer his sound, he played through a series of effects. (Almost too much.  As stated by Felicity, it would've been nice to hear the same sounds that the Ainu heard 500 years ago.) Oki's singing through a delay was at times otherworldly, and more than once I found myself swaying as if in trance.  Little wonder the shamanistic influence on that region's art and culture.  Even his mukkuri, a distant relative of the polycultural mouth harp, when heard with effects, had all of the character of wind blowing through grass, vibrating in the same way that Tuvan throat-singing does.  And his heavier numbers reminded me some of the great jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, and his live solo work.  I imagine that Oki too could play a mean stand-up bass.  He'll appear again at Kyoto's Metro in early April, so catch him if you can.
Soul Flower came on next and as usual, didn't disappoint.  I've written of them many times in these pages, and won't say much again.  When Oki joined them for a couple of their numbers, he seemed somewhat lost, and was buried too deep in the mix.  But when the band backed him up on his most famous song, it was seamless, and every eye of every band member was completely on him, and in their concentration, didn't miss a single change.  Very talented bunch.  The last piece was an Okinawan classic, but here too, Oki's sound was just too thick for the light touch of island music. It was like a fallen coconut tree, caught in the surf break, crashing heavily again and again on soft, gentle sand.

(Michael over at Deep Kyoto wrote about the club and the gig, both here and here.  The latter link, to Deep Kyoto, will help ensure that you never eat at home again.)

On the turntable:  Kazumi Watanabe, "Mo Bop II"
On the nighttable:  B.K.S. Iyengar, "Light on Life"

1 comment:

taikotari said...

Hey Ted, I got a couple of CDs by OKI from my visit to the Ainu museum near Sapporo. He really is quite something.