Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review: Keith Terry and Kenny Endo: A Lifetime of Improvisation

Friday night I went up north to Berkeley to see a duo of amazing performers. I had seen them do a similar show about three or four years ago in a tiny club with a capacity of maybe 30 seats; the show didn't sell out then but I don't think anyone knew about it. I don't recall how I found out about that first show, but it turned out to be my favorite live performance of any I've ever attended.

Taiko fans should recognize one of the names - Kenny Endo. Kenny's one of the pioneers of NA taiko, based out of Hawaii, and known for his mastery of texture and sounds. The other name, Keith Terry, is well versed in many forms of percussion, more than I can list here, and a master of body percussion. I'm not doing either of them justice; you really should Google them both to get a sense of how amazing both of them are! Kenny is cool confidence and Keith is remarkable smoothness.

They played a two-hour show this past Friday, and the set was both very similar yet different from the previous one. In both performances, Kenny had a set up of taiko and Keith had his assorted toys, instruments, and a drumkit. At times just one would do a solo performance, but usually they were both going at the same time. Sometimes they would interact with lightness and humor, but it was really just about the "dialogue" between them.

The beauty of the performance is that it was almost impossible to tell what wasn't improvised. I caught one kiai by Kenny during an odaiko solo that signaled when he was going to end, but aside from that, it could have all been made up on the spot.

Now, I improvise a good deal with my group, but the ease of which they did it between each other was extraordinary. Either man would start something, some pattern on some instrument with some beater, and the other would work off of that. It was rarely one person playing a repetitive pattern for the other to solo off of; even when one person was the clear focus, the other would be improvising around the very base they were providing. Let me make it clear how incredibly difficult that is - it's DIFFICULT. :)

To have a person improving to a set pattern isn't too hard, but then to have that pattern change underneath you and still maintain your own voice is quite a task. And let's not forget the person changing and weaving in the first place, who's trying not to mess up the soloist but at the same time converse with them. Lots of things can go wrong there! Now consider that they did this pretty much for 90 minutes...yow!

I don't know if or when this show will come about again, but I will see it if at all possible. The skill of both men, the ease at which they do what they do so well, and the ideas they inspire make it my highest-recommended show. And this is from a Kodo fanatic, so that's saying something!

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