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Kodo is subtle as well as strong

Music | WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

February 07, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The vibrations coursing through the walls of Royce Hall on Wednesday could mean only one thing: Kodo is back in town. The 17-member Japanese percussion ensemble, internationally famous for its skills at manipulating a fantastic array of drums, cymbals, gongs and flutes, was kicking off a four-night presentation of its unique transformation of traditional Japanese music.

Kodo has roots that are deep in the folk vernacular. But there were times Wednesday when it more closely resembled the precision programming of a performance by the Rockettes.

That's not to minimize either the compelling qualities of the music or the sheer athleticism involved in its creation. But Kodo's most engaging moments were those in which subtle dynamics, rather than percussive bombast, ruled: a piece in which a line of performers played small, snare drum-like instruments in atmospheric waves of sound; a stately dance featuring a pair of kimono-clad dancer-drummers; a dark, moody, wooden-flute duet.

Now celebrating its 21st anniversary, Kodo has partnered with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart in a recording titled "Mondo Head." It has also performed with dozens of other drummers from every part of the world. Despite the pleasures of the primary production, it would be an intriguing contrast to hear Kodo in that sort of setting, one interfacing its virtuosity with the sounds and sights of other musical cultures.

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