Jazz pianist Eri Yamamoto first heard taiko drummer and flautist Kaoru Watanabe perform when they were appearing in different ensembles on the same evening at The Stone, John Zorn’s not-for-profit performance space dedicated to the experimental and avant-garde, this summer. Watanabe’s improvisational style, playing western flute and bamboo flutes inspired by the musical landscapes of the Kabuki theater, Gagaku, and Noh with two master percussionists Tatsuya and Adam Rudolph, spoke to Ms. Yamamoto, a Japanese native who grew up in Kyoto listening to this music every day.
She proposed a collaboration via emails in Japanese, assuming he was from Japan. After all he spoke fluent Japanese and had studied Fue, traditional Japanese Folk Dancing, and taiko drums with the world famous Japanese Taiko group, Kodo, who train on the island of Sado in Japan, had travelled as member of the group, and served as a guest artistic director.
Watanabe, born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, (whose parents are members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, his mother is a harpist and father is a violinist), wrote back in English. To her surprise, she discovered he was Japanese American, but recognized in his music, his Japanese soul.
After a few rehearsals under their belt, they played together for the first time as a duo, on a sun drenched Sunday afternoon at the Circle 57 Salon in New York. Performing their original jazz based and Japanese influenced original compositions during their first collaboration, Ms. Yamamoto and Mr. Watanabe’s synergy was lyrical magic, as if they had been playing together for years. I look forward to their next. Click below to her Kaoru Watanabe’s original composition Underlying.