Japan Marvelous Drummers @ George Square Theatre, 18 August
"How is a drum solo like a sneeze?" an old joke goes.
"You can tell when it's coming, but you can't do anything about it."
And with Japan Marvelous Drummers, you wouldn't want to: these hard-working performers take their audience on an hour-long ride through marshall music. Moving, physical and deeply felt, it's technically brilliant and also lots of fun.
The 13:00 Wednesday show opens with a sound like glass breaking in the dark, which turns out to be some masterful hand cymbal playing, directing a piece with thumping taiko drums and lilting shakuhachi flute. When the Fringe perhaps starts to feel a bit too English, JMP are a brisk breath of fragrantly international air; these Japanese percussionists play a piece called Esperanza (Spanish/Portuguese for "hope"), toss in some tricks taken from the thoroughly Western drumline playbook, and leave space for a Kelly-and-Astaire tap-dancing interlude. As if this isn't enough, they charm us with a quick Scotland the Brave.
The drumline stuff – kumi-daiko drumming, in Japan, is a tradition only dating back to the early 1950s – is thunderous, and with its physically demanding forehand/backhand technique is visually riveting enough to carry a viewer through the whole hour. But for those in the audience with ears less inclined to hear melody in pure rhythm, a well-placed flute and koto harp piece is a beautiful relief, and a dash of comedy and demands for audience participation help, too.
One piece, they say, represents their vision for "the future of Japanese drumming." Blending old melodies, instruments, and techniques with Western drum corps rhythms and even some of Michael Jackson's (and, at one point, Shakira's) dance moves, JMP make a convincing case. They remind one of something Ezra Pound said, that "Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance." For JMP, to drum is to dance – and to laugh, to sweat, to shout. Quickly we warm to their musical philosophy.
A drummer might despair of ever getting a room to clap in time for more than four beats; but, in an amusing interlude, JMP make us try (and try again) until we get it right. We still have the rythm, it seems, when we stand to give them their well-earned ovation.