A woman, worried that the dozens of cymbals and gongs will be too much aural stimulation, moves from the front to the back of the performance space. Moments later, Tatsuya Nakatani creates slices of resonance by bowing five small bowls that sway back and forth on top of a floor tom. It definitely sounds better from the front row.
Originally from Osaka, Japan, the improvisational percussionist has gigged all over the world, ranging from Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution to Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From sight, his setup may seem like a sensory overload in waiting, but as proven by past performances, Nakatani molds creative music that stretches the limits of sound, sans the arbitrary abuse.
Along with bulletproof recorded documents -- including last year's Fever Dream with MAP that features criminally underrated guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Reuben Radding; the two-LP set is one of the best in the Taiga catalog -- Nakatani is constantly cleansing listening palettes through constant touring.
Nakatani pours in the same effort for an audience of four (as he did for a gig in Phoenix on April 23) as he did last night, for more than an hour, for the 30-strong onlookers that attended the concert at a private residence near Alabama and Kirby. Nakatani had planned to play two separate sets, but just like his decision to move his setup from the third floor condo to the downstairs and partially open garage, he smashed two separate ideas into one.
The first movement featured a sparse sonic interplay between Nakatani and Houston-based guitarist Sandy Ewen. Nakatani, aided by cymbals of varying sizes and states of decay, focused on feedback-like tones while Ewen, equipped with two amplifiers and a pitch-shifting pedal, bent sound into edgy dreamscapes.
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One of the many highlights included Nakatani blowing air through a miniature cymbal and into the snare head. As he moved the implement around the drum, he attained wide-ranging tones, including some that modeled the middle to upper registers of an E-flat saxophone. This is a move Nakatani has pulled before in a live context, and one that won't grow tiresome for quite some time, if ever.
After the approximately half-hour piece, the Nakatani Gong Orchestra (N.G.O.), featuring a five-strong group and a dancer handpicked from Houston's improvised music scene, assumed their positions behind various gongs that hung from clothes racks. Nakatani, when he wasn't massaging a gong with a hand-made bow, conducted the group as they meandered between quietude and crescendos that did not require fingers in the ears.
The only bummer about the showcase was the in-the-know logistics -- this writer, for instance, only became privy to location details after e-mailing Nakatani, who then forwarded the information to several Nameless Sound folks.
However, looking at it from the other side, the incessant clinks of beer bottles and idle chatter in a more traditional venue wouldn't have added to the sound collage. The wind chimes and whirl of the flowing freeway, which were just in audible reach, did.