Tatsuya Nakatani: a different kind of drummer . . .


Tatsuya Nakatani is a different kind of drummer. He is gagaku. He is butoh. He is contemporary.

Tatsuya Nakatani mediates past and present. His earnest ceremony places us in a time machine: we return to prehistory and witness the beginnings of human speech.

Long ago I first heard Tatsuya with nmperign — almost too much to assimilate in one sitting — as Tatsuya’s colleagues Bhob Rainey and Greg Kelley seemed intent on redefining the sound of a saxophone and a trumpet through their own reconstructive innovations.

Next to them and sitting behind a modest kit sporting meticulously tuned drums, often muted by a draped fabric on which brass candle-holders and innumerable other “toys” were placed, and surrounded by racks of bells and gongs from which he drew breathtaking legato arches, was Tatsuya Nakatani. Although his approach for me was that of a “new kind” of percussionist, I did not find in his playing the subversive edge of his two colleagues: he was not pulling and gnawing on his instruments to redefine the sound of a bell, a gong, or a drum. But he was right there with them at the beginning of time. I heard a set of phonemes, human-like in their utterance, as if pointing a microphone at those barely audible sounds always present but seldom heard. Bells were bell-like and drums were drum-like, but like his colleagues on sax and trumpet, Tatsuya was showing us the “microtonal cracks” that are normally unheard.

Tatsuya is a creator of great sonic spaces — including silences that are overwhelmingly loud, silences that have a granite-like strength and weight — spaces which yank our often lazy musical imaginations right out of their hiding places and get us interacting with the process. With this often-latent energy, Tatsuya mediates artfully between soft and loud, between density and sparseness, in a dramatic and poetic way. He recontextualizes the majestic pageantry in the court musics of bygone China and Japan.

…Tatsuya Nakatani is gagaku, he is butoh, and he is contemporary.

I embrace the images he conjures: like a ghostly three-dimensional holographic image, an ancient ritual materializes above him. Solemnly marching across a second stage high above, there appear all the mothers of the world’s children — all who ever were. As they slowly appear, I am brought nearer to the beginnings of time. I feel closer to my own beginnings.

—  Bob Falesch, 2oo3