Kodo, Ibuki, Sony Japan

To say that Kodo is one of the best-known Japanese Taiko ensembles in the world is to say that they're still pretty obscure, at least in the common media. There are Taiko groups in almost every Japanese Buddhist temple in Southern California, but they just don't get the press that other kinds of music do.

Kodo's latest album, Ibuki, looks like they want to change that, mixing traditional Taiko drum rhythms with influences from all over the globe, from African and Caribbean to American marching band riffs, while still retaining a distinctly Japanese flavor.

Bill Laswell recorded and produced the album, and his attention to detail is apparent throughout the album the sound quality is excellent. This is an album to play at high volume; the small shime-daikos and gourds are as highly articulated as the massive eight-foot O-Daiko, played with sticks as thick as some people's arms. There is more "kakegoe" (shouting) on this album than previous Kodo recordings, which brings out a sense of "being there" for the live pieces. It's a CD of incredible engineering, capable of shaking buildings (voice of experience here). Play it loud.

Ibuki continues a trend in Kodo where Taiko as a religious discipline is de-emphasized in favor of creativity in the music. Kodo are no longer the austere traditionalists of 1985's Heartbeat Drummers of Japan; they've diversified and funkified, and the result will appeal to some but not to others. They used to run 20 miles a day, now they're down to ten. But the discipline in the music is still there. From the calm and meditative to the wildly frenetic, there is a devotion to virtuosity, tradition, and musical excellence that makes hearing anything new by Kodo a rare listening experience.

Official home page (in English): http://www.sme.co.jp/Music/Info/KODO/

Reviewed by Dan Young...