A TEAMING of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers is almost certainly unprecedented.

Aside from a shared interest in rhythm and the fact that both saxophonist Tommy Smith, the SNJO’s director, and the Mugenkyo troupe are based in Lanarkshire, they seemed to have little common ground. But this unlikely meeting was a distinct success, going well beyond simply overlaying jazz instrumentation on Japanese rhythms. The fusion across ten new compositions, each inspired by a god from the Shinto canon, genuinely fused the musical resources at hand.

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They used the rhythm patterns familiar to the three drummers, Neil Mackie, Miyuki Williams and Teresa Brookes, as the basis for the music. The SNJO’s own drum powerhouse, Alyn Cosker, created thrilling interactions with the taiko exponents in a relentless but fascinating barrage of percussive power.

Smith often used muted brass for a darker colouration, and worked in melodic and harmonic influences derived from Japanese folk music and scales while successfully retaining a distinct jazz feel, and allowing scope for the SNJO’s many excellent soloists to flourish. It will be fascinating to see how this develops.