Decisive beats build to crashing crescendos with the elemental power of a tsunami wave. Devoid of lyrics, taiko drumming is punctuated with Japanese language chants and yells, encouraging players to perform with maximum energy. This commanding collection celebrates twenty years of the Mugenkyo troupe, and features some great recordings from live performances in Japan.
‘Kaikigenkyo’ is a rousing full ensemble composition celebrating the group’s relationship with teacher Masaaki Kurumaya Sensei. Following in his footsteps Eternal Return demonstrates an embrace of the innovative. It features modern soundscapes – try ‘Chronos’ – as well as time-honoured tempos, such as ‘Hibiki’.
Another special guest is flautist Nobuko Miyazaki, who provides a welcome tempering of the rumbling drum rhythms with Middle Eastern inspired melodies in ‘Shibu-Rokku’ and spine-tingling shinobue bamboo flute accompaniment to the celebratory ‘Matsuri’.
There is an interesting addition of megaphone poetry in ‘Shibu-Rokku’. I was less keen on the cacophony of sounds in contemporary composition ‘Alchemy’ and would have preferred the album to close with the preceding ‘Kizuna’.
Overall, Mugenkyo drummers balance between staying true to the roots of a very traditional Japanese form of music, and keeping the genre fresh and thought-provoking. Invigorating and inspiring, Eternal Return is the ideal soundtrack to physical or mental exertion.
Track to try: Matsuri
See the Mugenkyo Taiko website.
Review by Vanessa Villalobos (first published in Songlines Magazine #96)