Concert Review: Taiko 6, Ponsonby Social Club, 25 September 2020

A special evening of East-West music. Ancient Taiko drums from Japan. With young Jazz musicians combining familiar instruments and electronic effects to deliver a unique live experience that would fit perfectly into a WOMAD festival. When we are allowed to celebrate life again.

Josh Clark has put this all together and leads the band tonight. Has a classical music background as well as Jazz. Plays keyboards, percussion and melodica tonight. Lewis McCallum supplies the electronics and blows on saxophone. Matt Neale is often a Rock musician and plays electric guitar and bass.

Three young women play the Taiko drums tonight. These are traditional Japanese drums dating back at least 1600 years. The large ensemble drum performances called Kumi-daiko originated in the early Fifties. Spread around the world. Variations of styles are seen in the USA, Canada, Europe, Taiwan and Brazil. In Auckland, they are a 25-strong predominantly female ensemble.

On stage tonight is Nadine Schneeman who plays a set of two, shime-daiko and oke-daiko.Two Japanese sisters, Hanako Hutton and Miyako Hutton each play the largest drums on stage called chu-daiko. All dressed in black with a large red sash.

They open with just the girls. Big drums in unison. Counter-beats from the smaller combo. Tribal and primal. Some similarity to the Black Fife and Drum music heard in the Mississippi and surrounds. The origins there are from the English Military. But it’s easy to hear the call of Africa in both traditions. This is not the Mama Heartbeat of your straight Rock’n’Roll. It is complex and hypnotic.     

On the next, the drum pattern is similar but the jazz players join. The saxophone plays a familiar Cool Fifties Café melody. Which then becomes higher in tone and more dissonant. Keyboards intertwine around the beats.

A peaceful piano starts the third. Contemplative as in the twilight. What sounds like syn-drums from the electronic box. Guitar riffs and echoes of the old Mahavishnu Orchestra. The Taiko drums then arise and roll with thunder. This is sound best experienced live. Pressure waves hit and you feel it in the guts. Impossible to capture on recordings. An electronic flute. Piano encircles the tune to finish quietly.

The girls take a break and the Jazz trio are on for a brace of improvisational work-outs.

The Purple Haze riff begins the first one. An electronic rhythm. A piano solo that cooks. A familiar Miles Davis style saxophone solo. The guitar improvises on Urban Blues style motifs. All the elements combine to a drone. Funk elements are added as the gadget box locks into rhythmic riffs. A Jazz break from the guitar is picked up and continued by the piano. A superb groove is generated and the audience cheer. A couple break all the rules and dance.

I ponder the possibility of dance to be more effective than social distancing in keeping people healthy.

To mellow the audience out, the next piece starts with a slow and peaceful piano melody. The saxophone accents this.  Piano leads this to a melodic Soul Jazz place. Most reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Caledonian Soul Band of the Seventies.

Taiko girls return and they get close to a Bo Diddley shave and a haircut two bits rhythm. Reinforced by interjections from the piano and sax.

After a short break Clark introduces a meditative mantra piece called Kunda. Written around the practise of Kundalini Yoga. An Eastern drone. Soothing vocals. The drummers enter smoothly and organically.

The flash and pyrotechnics return. An esoteric extended improvisational jam. Piano starts with complex little runs. Guitarist flies but stays fluid. The jam springs off in all directions but somehow remains tight. Funk elements throb. Melodica boogies. The music keeps coiling and firing off.

The closing Taiko 6 number tonight is Ippon written by Kenji Furatate and Tamashii Taiko. A traditional Japanese festival chanted opening. Tribal drums as a call to arms. Relentless and keeps surfing in. A lone saxophone from the West.

A real visceral physical experience. The sound presentation excels. An inspired matching of East and West which resonates long into the night.   

Rev Orange Peel