Toshinori Kondo Blows the Earth _ and More

May 13, 2009 was an important day for our son and taiko drummer Isaku Kageyama.
He played with Japanese jazz trumpeter Toshinori Kondo at the Kuonji Temple up high in the Minobu mountains _ a spot close to the sky, filled with green, air and playfully warbling “uguisu” nightingales and looking so much like a brush painting with mushroom-shaped trees you’d expect God to come down any moment.
Kondo takes the crowd on a journey _ part pilgrimage seeking salvation, part exploration of a multicultural artist’s emotions, sometimes gut-wrenching rage, sometimes sheer ecstasy.
He plays over several electronic soundtracks that have been worked out in advance for tunes, each of which expresses Kondo’s thoughts about the earth’s place in the universe, Japan’s place in the world of self-expression, and the individual’s plight and mission within that planet and place.
Kondo has always explored his Japanese roots and forged a Japanese sound.
But he has also always kept his eyes on what goes beyond race/nationality/genres _ looking for answers in the cosmic.
Taiko with jazz trumpet and a DJ track is a combination that’s a bit unexpected.
But it worked _ splendidly.
It was something I had never seen before but yet it seemed the most natural thing to be experiencing.
In one segment, Kondo told the audience he did a collaboration sometime back with artists that included Nobuyoshi Araki and Seitaro Kuroda for an anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.
He said they were moved that the people of Hiroshima referred to the A-bomb as “Pikadon,” an onomatopoeia alluding to the “flash” or “flick” of blazing light and the “boom” or “bang” of its lethal sound.
A Westerner would certainly have injected some outrage or maliciousness and called it what it deserved: a mother-fucking etc. … Kondo said.
But the people of Hiroshima just called it Pikadon.
“We found this extremely moving,” he said.
The Japanese language is filled with onomatopoeia.
That’s why some people think the Japanese language is “primitive.”
But I don’t think so, he said.
The Japanese language is very beautiful and musical, and Earth is a very musical planet filled with the sounds of the birds, insects and the wind, according to Kondo.
And he goes into song.
There is never a dull moment.
And it’s never the same.
Isaku felt the joy of sharing such a stage.
Kondo was generous and motioned politely to hand him solo spots. He even told the audience “Kageyama-kun” is nervous and this is the first time we’ve performed together but isn’t he doing a pretty good job?
That evening, Isaku followed Kondo on that journey, every step of the way.
He didn’t pull his leg, and he didn’t tumble down any crevice.
And he was happy.
But looking back, he wants more, he says.
What he wants now is to grow as a musician so he will be able to add something of his own to that trip.
It’s a beginning, and the endeavor will be long and arduous.
But as Kondo says, it is a joy _ just to be born.
And to be playing with Kondo _ that’s nothing but bliss.