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11 December 2008

Taikoz: The Gathering - featuring Riley Lee and Timothy Constable

Sydney // NSW // 24.11.2008

Taikoz Image: Taikoz  
© Keith Saunders

Coaxed back to Sydney for one final show, 'The Gathering' brought to Verbrugghen Hall the kind of well-oiled performance that's the special preserve of a tight-knit ensemble traversing the country for three months. A hushed beginning to Eitetsu Hayashi's Yamasachi saw a lone Kerryn Joyce opening the night, exactingly pounding from the heart of centre stage, new drummers soon emerging from the wings, a tribal overtone set early in place.

Resounding Bell, inspired by the clamorous yet mysterious resonance of a newly cast bell, was born with a gentleness of spirit, a mellifluousness to the earthy shakuhachi of Grand Master Riley Lee. Structured in three parts, its inspiration, title and mood emerged from Masaoka Shiki's haiku: Atsukurushi - Midare-gokor ya - Rai o kiku ('Oppressive heat – My whirling mind – Listens to the peals of thunder'). Through the harmonious repetition of the marimba, underlayed with circular percussion and winding gently with the shakuhachi, the piece took on a meditative quality.

After a patient build, the drums were finally unleashed, the marimba growing more urgent and Riley Lee, absent for some time, returning. The thunderclap of the enormous drum, played by hand by Ian Cleworth, was gloriously reverberant, the acoustics of Verbrugghen Hall seemingly built for this very ensemble – a rich, resounding chamber in which every beat of the drum could swell and rumble. With equal helpings of grace and power, the storm passed, the thunderous boom giving way to a gentle pitter-patter.

Taikoz have always impressed with their steely resolve – the physicality of interacting with these drums, coupled with the sense of the importance of continuity of tradition. After three months honing this show to a fine point, it seemed they were able to let go a little. There was still a strong, disciplined core and remarkable precision – every beat of the drum drawing all the concentration and energy the performers could muster – but at the same time there was a refreshing playfulness and sense they were letting their hair down. This became most obvious whenever Timothy Constable was on stage, his virtuosic marimba playing dancing warmly between Riley Lee's earthy shakahuchi bamboo flute and the more solemn taiko drumming.

Anyone left in any doubt that the audience was being infected with the spirit of the performance needed only observe them as they spilled from the hall at interval, unable to resist recreating favourite parts through their own air drumming. While amazed at Taikoz's professionalism and creative energy, you are not so much intimidated as inspired. There's something about drumming that taps into our own innate musicality, coaxes us to join in and be part of the music making experience.

A traditional Yataibayashi arrangement opened the second half, the raucous energy and metronomic synergy offering a primal catharsis. Traditionally a 12-hour performance, it was distilled down to a draining yet ultimately exhilarating 10 minutes. With gongs and bells tinkering and Constable's marimba growing more dynamic as the next piece Marimba Spiritual wore on, the drums were the backbone, the nerve centre around which the lightning movement and lively, confident parry and thrust of musical play could dance, moving towards a closing passage that built and built.

The fluid chant of Tribute to Miyake opened one of the night's most mesmerising passages, the horizontally placed chudaiko the focus for a visually arresting technique in which each drummer moved back and forth like a saw, pivoting low and long and swinging through in increasingly complex rhythmic patterns.

The Game and Circle Dance closed out the second part with a return of the playful edge. The notion of 'the gathering' evokes a community spirit, and it's no great stretch to consider this performance did bring people together. Despite being treated to a long and draining performance, the audience still wasn't ready to let Taikoz go and enjoy their well-earned break, so the performers returned for an encore. Moving from Japan to Senegal, a lively Youssou N'Dour work was a fitting end to a warm, inclusive night.

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Benjamin Millar is a Sydney-based journalist, writer and photographer. He works as a journalist and editor for a stable of community newspapers.


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