Saturday, February 3, 2018

Happiness: Kumagai and Watanabe at Asia Society

Left: Kazunori (Kazu) Kumagai
(photo: Maiko Miyagawa)
Right: Kaoru Watanabe
(photo: Yuki Kokubo)

Bessie-winning tap dancer Kazunori Kumagai (2006) is likely better known to my InfiniteBody readership than is composer-musician Kaoru Watanabe, but these two major artists merged forces last night at Asia Society's First Friday, presented with Japan Foundation. Kumagai (aka Kazu) brought two friends he has partnered with in recent years--Sabrina Clery, an engaging, heartful vocalist, and renowned veteran bassist, Alex Blake. Watanabe, percussionist and flutist, was accompanied by colleagues whose work similarly spans cultures and genres--violinist Mazz Swift and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi.

We were treated to an exemplary performance by Kumagai who, over time, demonstrated finer and finer control of his sounds and speed of delivery. Assured technique, yes, but he also learned, from Black funkmeister mentors, to keep heart and soul in place. And sass, too, like those slices of shoe against wood, so like skate blades marking ice. His inward concentration--pitched forward, drilling the floor, eyes on his work--this time reminded me less of Gregory Hines, with whom he has been compared, than Savion Glover. He appears less interested in looking pretty than sounding awesome, getting results, holding his own with rhythmic powerhouses like Blake (in their dynamic Blue Moses duet) and Watanabe (in the stormy and ecstatic Amazing Grace finale, performed with all hands on deck).

This gig with Watanabe marked Kumagai's (and, likely, tap's) Asia Society debut. A huge audience received it all warmly, and I hope that means we can expect future Watanabe/Kumagai collaborations and return visits.

Asia Society's First Friday is celebrated from 6pm to 9pm on the first Friday of the month with free museum admission, exhibition tours, refreshments, late night shopping at AsiaStore and more. The next will be held on March 2. Asia Society also hosts LGBT Connections Night at Leo Bar each night on third Fridays. For more information on all of these events, click here.

Currently on view at Asia Society:

In Focus: An Assembly of Gods

Through March 25, 2018

An in-depth look at a large Chinese pantheon painting
from the early nineteenth century

Masterpieces from the Asia Society Museum Collection

Through March 25, 2018

A selection of the finest artworks
from the renowned Asia Society Museum Collection

For more information, click here.

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