Matsuri, which means festival in Japanese, is the debut commercial recording by Synergy, Australia's extraordinary percussion quartet. It is an appropriate title, as the ensemble members and their guests present a festival of sounds and compositions from Japan and Australia. In addition to Synergy's usual complement of drums, gongs, and mallet instruments, the music on Matsuri includes the traditional shakuhachi flute and the long zither, or koto, of Japan.
Matsuri is more than a simple collection of works. It is a carefully constructed concert program inspired by the traditional divisions of the day in Japan, where each two-hour period is associated with a different sign of the zodiac. The album begins with the ritual striking of a shrine drum, denoting the Hour of the Rabbit or sunrise, and concludes with the crystalline sounds of A Clear Midnight, part of a suite written by Synergy founder, Michael Askill. The ensemble presents the soft impressionism of Toru Takemitsu's famous Raintree, for mallet instruments and antique cymbals; the eerie sounds and the visceral impact of Askill's The Wave, for voice; Japanese drums and Thai gongs; and the inviting, almost Western-sounding koto music of Tadao Sawai's Hotaru.
Works by popular pianists and composers, Teizo Matsumura and Sen Amano, help to round out the recording. Riley Kelly Lee, one of the few Westerners to attain the rank of grand master of the shakuhachi, contributes a flute solo. Matsuri is more than a festival of percussion, and more than another recording of contemporary music from the Pacific. With a program that ranges from musical meditations to exciting barrages of traditional style drumming, Matsuri has a ritualistic, almost timeless, sound.