SNJO World of the Gods


Drums and drumming are universal. On every continent, drums have been used historically for communication, to declare intentions of war, to celebrate peace. In Japan, two thousand years ago and more, as they were elsewhere, drums were also beaten to ward off evil spirits, to encourage crops to grow, to try and influence the weather, and to celebrate and pay homage to the gods.


Centuries later, drums became part of the court music of the Imperial Palace and drumming became not just a skill but an artform that required years of training. The word taiko, which literally translates as “drum,” took on a new meaning as drumming influenced cultural developments such as the Noh play.


Today, taiko is a global phenomenon with drumming troupes across America, Europe and Australia as well as in Japan. Its practitioners study seriously to perfect its power and subtlety, to build the strength and endurance it takes to create the sounds of thunder and to make and sustain the moves involved in its ritualised choreography.


These were the qualities that impressed Scottish National Jazz Orchestra founder and musical director, Tommy Smith as he watched a television documentary about taiko. Always looking for possibilities for collaboration, Tommy’s first thought was, where would I find the drummers who could bring taiko into the orchestra’s orbit?


Assuming the answer to be Japan, Tommy was surprised to find that Europe’s only professional taiko troupe was based in Scotland. He was even more taken aback, after he’d been in touch and arranged to meet them in Glasgow, that the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers had their dojo – or rehearsal space – five miles from his house in the Lanarkshire countryside.


After arranging for the SNJO’s own master drummer, Alyn Cosker, to get together with Mugenkyo and make sure they could work together, Tommy composed World of the Gods. A series of ten pieces that draw on Japanese folk melodies, this work showcases Mugenkyo’s percussive music and movement alongside jazz harmony and improvisation. It also highlights the delicacy that Tommy marvelled at in that documentary and it created an unforgettable experience when it premiered in 2010. It toured successfully in England the following year and is a work that Tommy has wanted to return to ever since.


Although the art forms they espouse originated on opposite sides of the world, the SNJO and Mugenkyo have found a common spirit. The two ensembles are not so far apart in age. When the SNJO was formed in 1995, Mugenkyo were in their infancy but on the way to giving over 1000 concerts. They have taken their thrilling and energetic performances across the UK, Japan & Europe, appearing at venues including the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, at events including Glastonbury and Cork Jazz Festivals, and in prime-time television programmes including the Brit Awards and the Last Night of the Proms.


Tonight, the SNJO and Mugenkyo converge again. World of the Gods will, promises Tommy, bring the thunder. It will also suggest the sweet fragrance of cherry blossoms and many emotions and impressions in between. It’s an orchestral jazz performance like no other, so sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

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