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MUSIC AND DANCE REVIEWS : Kodo Show Turns to Gospel Hour

March 07, 1994|CHRIS PASLES

Somebody switched the channel about 85 minutes into the Kodo program Saturday at the Wiltern Theatre, and suddenly the show turned into an old-fashioned revival hour.

Maybe the marathon-running drummers of Soto, Japan, have recently gotten Religion and feel that their message can be--or needs to be--amplified, as on this first-time occasion as part of a "One Earth Tour," through the addition of gospel singer Lecei Wright and her pianist and singers.

To be sure, Wright sang her three songs with warmth and commitment, injecting some jazz riffs and scat singing. But for at least one long-term Kodo fan, the switch in style was a serious miscalculation.

Until that moment, the troupe's message had remained powerfully austere, nonverbal and abstract, capable of sustaining intellectual and philosophical musings, demanding them, almost, through the variety and architecture of the tonal imagery, or even by the players' refusal to guarantee socko endings to the pieces.

Instead, they might switch gears to dampen-down any excitement or, contrariwise, continue the drumming to the point of emphasizing the percussionists' hyper-endurance and focus, rather than any sensory appeal.

For sheer metaphysics, consider "Monochrome," in which individual voices emerged and dissolved out of steady pianissimo rolls played by seven taiko players. Call the piece a study in dynamics, an imitation and evocation of abstract or natural forces, or a demonstration of the philosophical conundrum of the One and the Many. Anything else? Your choice.

Using players capable of evoking imagery such as this as a mere back-up band for Wright's throaty, amplified vocalism and sentimental lyrics diminished their extraordinary energy and vision.

Even the 900-pound O-Daiko drum sounded less compelling than it had earlier.

* Kodo and Wright will appear at the Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire Blvd. through Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tickets: $13-$32. Information: (213) 380-5005.

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