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‘Effortlessly engaging’ percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani to conduct homegrown Gong Orchestra

Percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani
Percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani Makoto Takeuchi

Mark Southerland’s first encounter with renowned percussionist/drummer Tatsuya Nakatani was a memorable one, though it took place in an inauspicious venue.

“I had booked a Snuff Jazz gig at the Eighth Street Taproom in Lawrence,” said Southerland, a horn player in several Kansas City ensembles. “Tatsuya had a night off and was coming through town.”

Nakatani agreed to sit in with Snuff Jazz, and the occasion was


“It was an incredible moment in the dark and seedy hole that is the Taproom,” Southerland said. “Tatsuya is one of the most giving, experimental and truly unique musicians. He is effortlessly engaging. Certain musicians are so good, so fluid and natural, that they make you a better player. He is one of those.”

That was back in 2012, and since that night, Nakatani has developed a steady relationship with Southerland and his trio Aurograph. Nakatani is in town this week for two performances: with Aurograph at Corinthian Hall in the Kansas City Museum on Wednesday, and with his own Gong Orchestra at the 1900 Building on Thursday. Both are open to the public.

Nakatani is a native of Osaka, Japan, who now resides in Easton, Pa. Since the early 1990s, he has been touring the world, performing mostly as a solo percussionist, conducting workshops and teaching master classes.

From a performance preview of a show in Philadelphia in 2011: “Tatsuya Nakatani has articulated his own percussive style that combines free jazz, rock, noise and traditional Japanese folk music. In order to capture this vast aural landscape, his drum kit is supplemented with gongs, cymbals, singing bowls, bells and metal objects.”

At Wednesday’s show, Nakatani will perform with Aurograph, who comprise Southerland, Shawn Hansen and J. Ashley Miller.

“Ashley plays percussion, Shawn plays these tiny synthesizers, about the size of an iPhone 6s, and I’ll be playing some of the bastardized horns I make plus the good old tenor saxophone,” said Southerland, a horn sculpturist who makes many of his own instruments.

“All three of us are conceptual artists and visual artists on one level or another. We’re kind of a conceptual, experimental trance group.”

Nakatani performs on “Pickled Plums,” a recently released Aurograph recording.

“We’re a little different than the European-based free-form musicians he might usually be with,” Southerland said. “After every piece we recorded, he would smile, almost laugh. We were like, ‘Is that bad?’ He said, ‘No.’ He was feeling delight playing with us, and you can hear it in the music.”

For Thursday’s performance, Southerland has recruited 11 people to be part of Nakatani’s Gong Orchestra.

“I gathered 11 people with a wide range of backgrounds,” he said. “Some are in dance, some are in music, some are classically trained. The day of the show, they’ll meet with Tatsuya and rehearse with him for 2  1/2 hours. Then they’ll break for dinner, then he’ll conduct them through a 45-minute piece.”

Thursday’s show will be the first at the 1900 Building at 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Mission Woods. The building is owned by Steven Karbank, chairman of Karbank Real Estate Co.

“I’ve been presenting different alternative music performances for Steve at his other building at 2000 Shawnee Mission Parkway,” Southerland said. “Steve has had a long relationship with Tatsuya; they met in Japan many years ago. So he’s excited to have him be the first public performance in his new building.”

But, as Southerland learned at his first gig with Nakatani, the locale doesn’t really matter.

“He doesn’t care whether he’s at a place like the Taproom or at a huge college gig,” he said. “He doesn’t differentiate between the two. He just loves to perform.”

Timothy Finn: @phinnagain

This week

Tatsuya Nakatani will perform with the trio Aurograph at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Corinthian Hall at the Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd. Admission is $10. A dessert reception will follow the performance.

The Tatsuya Nakatani Gong Orchestra will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. Admission is free.