THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
Tatsuya Nakatani, The Dining Room, March 13
By nature, avant-garde music always has it uphill. But fortunately, there’s a small but serious network of cognoscenti here that keeps it a viable factor in Orlando. From the In-Between Series gallery shows to the Timucua White House to wherever the Civic Minded 5 touch down to informal house shows like this, art music seems to find a way in our city.
This gathering was for Tatsuya Nakatani, the acclaimed experimental percussionist who’s found plenty of open doors in Orlando for his many tour stops here over the years (including an especially notable one in 2016 with Acid Mothers Temple’s Kawabata Makoto). He’s well-known for frequent collaborations, as well as his gong orchestra project. But this special engagement was a performance featuring only Nakatani left to his own devices, which is really the ultimate way to experience an artist of this caliber.
With primal magnificence, he began on a giant suspended gong, working it with bow and mallet to strike the kind of deep drone frequency that musical shamans like Swans use to access other planes of consciousness. Once that foundation was set, Nakatani went on to weave an entire realm of and on his own. It was an extraordinary passage marked by tension, suspense, power and revelation.
More than just mood and space, Nakatani mines extraordinary vocabulary and articulation out of pure percussion. And it’s not simply due to his impressive arsenal. Much, much more, it’s his creativity and skill. His playing is capable of astonishing dynamism and rendering, the vast majority of which didn’t even entail traditional rhythmic drumming.
In lesser hands, I’ve seen rigs like this be display and gimmick. But not Nakatani. As tempting a visual feast as his array is, the proof of Nakatani as a live expressionist is in the listening. Shut your eyes and his virtuosic sonic artistry immediately closes in, enveloping you in a grip that’s total and exhilarating. Open them back up and you’ll see the whole spectacle anew as artist and implement fuse into a single, swirling organism of sound that’s all at once sophisticated, tribal and beyond time.
Next to a master like this, many of his contemporaries – even the most famous ones – can seem like tinkerers. Far and away, Nakatani is one of the most purposeful and transporting players of the percussion vanguard, a musical craftsman and visionary with few true peers. And of particular local interest, he’s also a relative regular to our town. Next time he comes, make it an imperative.
Warming things up for Nakatani were a couple local duos. The pair of Beatriz Ramirez-Belt and Jonas Van den Bossche joined forces to do an improvised live score. The former is the credentialed oboist who’s cofounder of the Alterity Chamber Orchestra and half of Belt & Ramirez with partner Christopher Belt, and the latter is the free and improvised music artist who’s half of experimental duo Unfade with partner Rachel Kinbar, whose shared house hosted this event.
In their set, Ramirez-Belt on oboe roamed far and wide in mood, across mountain and desert of feeling. Van den Bossche didn’t so much as play the guitar in any conventional sense as plumb it for electro-acoustic interplay with devices more at home in a toolbox than a musician’s kit. Together, they danced between tense austerity and frenzied noise.
The other homegrown duo were Pat Greene and Matt Duke. Greene – the man so locally famous for not wanting to “talk about it” – was, ironically, in spoken word mode here doing readings about drugs. Making the musical weirdness was Duke, who crafted strange transmissions on stark electronic equipment.