Japanese taiko drumming is an art form that is as visual as it is auditory. Kodo's army of drummers, sinewy and scantily clad in traditional costume, muscle 900-pound drums in perfectly choreographed unison while participating in a complex piece of performance art that is equal parts athletic performance and spiritual exercise. Capturing the group's explosion of energy and monastic dedication in a studio setting is no small task. Past efforts have, for the most part, failed miserably.
Employing Deadhead drumming legend Mickey Hart to produce the group's new disc, Mondo Head, may not initially seem like the solution to this dilemma. Despite his success with his world-beat-inspired Planet Drum series and his past association with Kodo, Hart's penchant for self-indulgent improvisational jamming is in natural conflict with Kodo's traditional Japanese dedication to a concise and disciplined musical approach.
Apparently, though, you can teach an old Deadhead new tricks. Hart took the tack of assembling an ensemble of world-music legends, such as Airto Moreira, Giovanni Hidalgo and Zakir Hussain, and gathering them to jam in his studio for more than 20 hours. He then efficiently edited the best of these collaborations and overdubbed them with the group to create everything from seamless, free-flowing grooves to doomsday, earth-shaking beats. More important, Hart introduced melody, a musical element that has long been in short supply in a traditional taiko drumming group's arsenal.
From the ethereal vocals of "Echo Bells" and "Ektal" to the lilting chant of "Oya y Ogun," and the hypnotic African mantra on the disc's spine-tingling opening track "Berimbau Jam," Mondo Head finds Hart and Kodo successfully marrying East and West, compromising none of their respective musical cultures in the process, and at last truly capturing the essence of the world's most talented taiko group on disc.
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