Released in 2004, "Taiko to Tabla" is an superb collaboration between Joji Hirota (percussionist and composer) and Pete Lockett (percussionist). The album title "Taiko to Tabla" is a reference to the truly global sound of percussive instruments covered here that include Japanese taiko drums, Indian tabla, Arabic dumbek and frame drums, Cuban congas / bongos and African udu. A quick flick of the multi-lingual album sleeve reveals that Pete Lockett can play just about just about every percussive instrument known to the world and has worked with many artists and on a number of films. Joji Hirota has been the musical director and percussionist of a theatre and an award winning dance company, has toured extensively and can also play the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute).
With such impressive credentials it would be more than a little worrying if the beats produced from such a pairing were not up to scratch, but rest assured, they are simply world-class. The recorded performances are expressive and demonstrate a complete mastery of many different rhythms. My only real complaint is that on many tracks, the melody is often neglected or very sparse resulting in music that is much less accessible to casual listeners. However, on the occasions when melody and beat combine into a harmonious whole we get truly memorable music.
Here is a rundown of each tune:
1. "Kokiriko-Bushi" - 6:37
A hauntingly beautiful shakuhachi playing a Japanese folk song greets your ears in what is the album highlight for me; there is a refreshing purity of sound and calming spirituality as Joji also sings in traditional Japanese style. The unique addition of varied tabla percussive flourishes to the mix is a perfect complement, transforming old ritual into something new.
2. "Pageant II" - 6:43
We really do go from "Taiko to Tabla" in this solely percussive track. A traditional Japanese beat (used when the harvest festival begins) is played on taiko drums, simple and insistent like a heartbeat. Weaving in and out of the main beat is a more complicated taiko beat although I do find that without a melody this track struggles to hold my attention. After 3 minutes the supporting beat is suddenly replaced by tabla whose intrinsic tonal qualities really helps to lift the repetition and we end on a tempo increase.
3. "First Thoughts" - 2:22
This comical track features a multiple layers of Pete performing vocal tabla percussion in time to an alarm clock, ending with the revelation that he has burnt the toast for breakfast!
4. "Hisho" - 5:38
A very lengthy intro and outtro pads out the length of this track, in which only the ringing tones of what sounds like meditative singing bowls can be heard. In between we get lively taiko drumming supported by Japanese bells.
5. "M'Bira Dream" - 6:00
Joji gives a delicate performance at a considerable speed on a wooden thumb piano in what is another album highlight. Pete uses jazz brushes on Arabic dumbek drums to provide a softer beat that avoids overwhelming the melody.
6. "Korvai on Chennais Sandy Shore" - 6:12
A complex rhythm is described with vocal tabla percussion before being played out on taiko and tabla. Halfway through, the rhythm changes and the tabla is replaced with congas and bongos instead, with the track building to a climax involving vocals and drumming.
7. "Invocation, From Past to Present" - 5:25
This track has all the elements there - shakuhachi, the unusual sound of an Arabic frame drum and catchy, clinky percussion - but the track is probably my least favoured on the album. The shakuhachi is used rhythmically rather than played with a clear melody and joji grunts unintelligibly throughout which I find distracting.
8. "Seventh Element of Glaciers" - 8:54
Tabla patterns are demonstrated in awesome fashion here with insanely fast tabla relas (drum-rolls), tempo changes and a section in which the beat becomes impossible to follow or predict - almost as though it is toying with you. Two-thirds of the way through, the tabla reverts to a simple beat around which Cuban bongo rhythms are played, leading to an impressive crescendo. Once again the natural tonal qualities of the tabla really help to make up for the absence of any melody.
9. "Chappa Chappa Ki-da-Ta-Ka" - 3:39
A relatively short but snappy track of taiko drums and Japanese cymbals that contains enough to sustain interest and ends before it becomes repetitive.
10. "Solan-Bushi" - 5:51
The album is rounded off with a shakuhachi-led folk song that is much slower paced than the first track and is very relaxing to listen to. Beats take a back-seat with a gentle performance on African udu drum using jazz brushes.
"Taiko to Tabla" opens and closes on a high, mixing Japanese tradition with more exotic drumming to create a sublime sound. The scarcity of melody means it struggles to match such rarified altitudes on much of the rest of the album, but make no mistake, this is primarily about percussion. If it's complex beats and varied rhythms you are after then look no further.
[Also reviewed on Ciao and Epinions]
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Pageant II
3 First Thoughts
5 M'bira Dream
6 Korvai On Chennais Sandy Shore
7 Invocation From Past To Present
8 Seventh Element Of Glaciers
9 Chappa Chappa Ki-da-ta-ka