Tuesday, 13 April 2010


I was at a strange gig at the weekend. Strange, but wonderful.
“The Music Of The Gods” featuring the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers.
If I had been wary about going to see the SNJO with John Scofield previously, I had been very, VERY wary about this one.
You’d think by now though that I would be more confident of Tommy Smith’s abilities and his knowledge of what his audience want and like.
My only previous experience of this type of drumming is during the London marathon! At one point, where you go through an underpass, there is a group of drummers "giving it large" on their big drums. The pounding is so loud you don’t hear it – you feel it in every part of your body. It even has an effect on the heart rate!
So, as I said, I was wary…. Drums like this?? And "jazz"??

The gig started very slowly and theatrically with a Shinto blessing of the Drums that segued into a tenor sax solo by Smith that was full of imagery of a call to prayers from some isolated mountaintop monastery.
And then something quite breath taking happened two of the drum troupe took to pounding out a rhythm on a couple of the middle sized of their big drums (pardon my lack of knowledge and proper terms). This was soon taken up with real glee by Alyn Cosker on the “traditional” drum kit. The orchestra kicked in behind with what I can only describe as a 40’s swinging riot. The comparisons between this and Benny Goodman’s band belting out “Sing Sing Sing” to a pounding Gene Krupa beat were obvious. If this tune had been a suit of clothes it would have been a Zoot suit, complete with unfeasibly long key chain and wide brimmed hat! I loved it. For one crazy moment I thought the Japanese drummers were going to start jitterbugging about the stage.

All of the other pieces (each one based on a Shinto god) were wonderful. I had feared that the drums, including one very big one, were going to drown out and over power the rest of the music. Thankfully, other than one or two brief patches, they didn’t. Which was just as well, as the jazz was, at times, mellow, quiet and thoughtful. The “drummers” also did quite a lot with other percussive instruments.
Mr Smith has attempted to place Japanese themes and influences into his jazz compositions. He seems to have succeeded and the music has the feel of the orient without being stereotypical or jokey or cartoonish as is often the case (I know it not jazz but Gilbert and Sullivan’s attempts at “doing Oriental” in the Mikado are just wrong).

Apparently, and I believe it, this is the first “fusion” of jazz and Taiko Drumming. If it is then it deserves a much, much larger audience than its current run of four dates is going to provide. Ideally it should be recorded – but at the very least it should be toured more extensively.
Oh. Tommy Smith lives in Lanarkshire. The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are from? Lanarkshire! He told a story about how he had the idea then how long it took to track down suitable drummers!
It's called "Google" Tommy. It's quite handy really.

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