On Ensemble: Triumphant Return to Cerritos
By Glen Creason
The On Ensemble once more renewed the mutual admiration society they have developed in Cerritos on Saturday evening. The Ensemble says they love the great hall with its enthusiastic audiences and the feeling seems to be totally mutual judging by the standing ovation that punctuated the conclusion of this concert. This, the third show they have done at the Performing Arts Center was the best yet, despite the young men raising the bar so high at their last show and causing some anticipation about this years festival of taiko drumming and hard to define totally cool music. Being the nice young men that they are they brought their parents along this time but what aces in the hole these folks were on this night. There were other surprises including the superb multi-percussion master Patrick Graham from Montreal, flute Master Kaoru Watanabe by way of NYC and the exquisite dancing of Chieko Kojima. The On Ensemble just to remind the local fans are Masato Baba, Shoji Kameda, Kelvin Underwood and Kristofer Bergstrom.
There was just a touch of bittersweet to the concert since so much of this fine music is inspired by recently devastated Japan but the On Ensemble took the courage of that land and people right into their performance and the results were inspiring. Of course, the heart and soul of the On Ensemble are these traditional Japanese instruments made modern which was evidenced in the show opening “Little Man” with the flute intro and exhilarating taiko drumming of five becoming one vibrating force. This is a visceral and powerful sound that just blasts the capillaries open providing a sensual, joyful and expansive sound that opens up the heart and mind. That high current energy level remained for the next two hours. “Strikes 13” was an amazing combination of the most unusual instrumental pairings from taiko to flute to whirligig to Jews harp. Patrick Graham put on a virtual clinic of sounds you can coax out of two opposing substances. “Yamasong” featured a long drum soundscape followed by pounding percussive crescendos, tuvan throat singing and wonderful sounds from a kind of koto. When Mom and Dad came on stage it seemed nice until they played and totally ripped up the big hall on “7even” that featured a deep and evocative sax solo by Russel Baba and some masterful drumming by Jeanne Mercer that demonstrated the boys are great and those apples don’t fall far from the trees. “Full Circle” was more of the same terrific ensemble work but this time it including plenty of visual appeal with actual acrobatics and dance by the performers including a very spry father Baba.
You could hardly start up again after intermission better than the utterly enchanting piece that commenced the second half with Chieko Kojima dancing a mysterious and haunting number accented by flute and taiko. Once again On Ensemble reached outward toward new horizons with Patrick Graham’s “Brilla” which expanded consciousness via turntable scratching, percussion on half-full pop bottles, throat singing, flute and taiko. Shoji Watanabe’s flute solo with the beautiful dancing of Miss Kojima was just breathtaking and begged the question why this music is not more in the public ear? Lastly, in tribute to the Mother Country the group performed “After the Rain” which offered a very palpable hope and renewal. The crowd responded with raving cheers and kept the boys on stage for more and more.