Tatsu Aoki, prolific composer
Tatsu Aoki, renowned bassist and director of the Tsukasa Taiko ensemble, presented a double bill this weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Aoki grew up in Tokyo studying traditional Japanese musical forms, became enamored with American pop, experimental, and jazz music, came to the States as a college student, and now teaches film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Aoki’s prolific contributions include founding the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, recordings with the Miyumi Project, and multiple awards for advocacy in the Asian American community and musical community.
The two performances under Aoki’s direction shared many of the same individual performers, yet each performance served a distinct purpose and explored different musical territory.
Taiko is mostly known to the Western world for its stylized, impressive drumming on large drums. Aoki wants to expand audience’s notion of taiko to include more traditional elements like the Japanese flute, shamisen, and smaller drums played by hand. He also experiments with new sounds; a large roster of performers that weave in and out of the evening include a flutist, saxophonist, three percussionists, and several dancers. The evening’s strongest section is its finale, where all types of sounds collide, representing a Aoki’s own journey from the geisha house to jazz experimentalism. Another highlight is a guest appearance by modern dancer Ayako Kato, whose movements in front of a floodlight create haunting shadows projected onto the drums themselves. Over thirty performers from Chicago, San Francisco, and Japan contributed to this vast, complicated, challenging work.
Tsukasa Taiko Legacy
More musically straightforward than Reduction, the Legacy project promotes taiko in two modes: acoustically (flute, shamisen) and with the larger drum ensemble of Tsukasa Taiko. A dance performance by Sennosuke Wakatsuki, donning an elaborate costume and ten-foot-long wig, is the absolute highlight of the night, providing a much-needed visual element to the otherwise musical event.
Recommended for: Musicians, and those interested in Japanese culture
Not recommended for: Audiences that prefer fast-paced entertainment
Dec 16-17 @ 7:30pm (Reduction)
Dec 17-18 @ 3pm (Tsukasa Taiko Legacy)
Susanna Hostetter is a dancer and teaching artist, exposing hundreds of Chicago Public School students a year to dance through renowned dance education organizations. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and is an avid attendee of Chicago theater, music, and cultural events.