Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Solo Percussion - Twelve Albums Overview

By Stef

In September, we already reviewed Chad Taylor's Myths & Morals, and Lucas Niggli's Alchemia Garden, but there is more percussive power that requires our attention. Amazingly enough, a lot of solo percussion works were released this year. An overview.

We will add a lot of improvised material, ranged from complete free form to composed modern music, from jazz to techno, from intimate to exuberant, from minimalistic to expansive. Whatever the style, genre or subgenre, the percussionists often feel free to let us hear music and angles of approach that are totally impossible in ensemble settings or in the presence of melodic or harmonic instruments. Because of the vast differences between the albums, I won't rate them, except for the first one.


Carlo Costa - Oblio (Neither/Nor Records, 2018) ****½
Italian and New York based percussionist Carlo Costa has been working for years on his own sound, primarily with his bands "Natura Morta" and "Earth Tongues", moving percussion deep into realms of sonic landscapes, but then preferably the ones that are rugged, unpredictable and with a dramatic edge. On 'Oblio', he offers us two pieces of around twenty minutes, using "an assortment of instruments and objects such as drum set, concert bass drum, singing bowls, bells, triangles, wood blocks, tiles, styrofoam, cymbals, violin bows, marbles, chains, knives" and probably more.

The pieces are built around structural composed parts, which offer a sense of direction for the improvisation. The first piece amazingly enough creates a broad sense of space too, with instruments that almost dialogue like human voices in a wide and empty realm full of resonance. The second piece completely breaks that effect, offering a different side of the same coin, but now more intimate, with less resonance, as if every sound is absorbed by the carpets in the room, and with a more prominent role of his drum set. Despite the clear outside-inside distinction, both tracks equal each other in intensity and narrative power. Like percussive innovators such as Eddie Prévost, the instruments are no longer used for rhythmic purposes, but are played in such a way to allow for stretched notes, scratching and scraping sounds, hollow reverberations, overlaid with rumbling and pealing noises.  In stark contrast to Prévost, Costa is not a minimalist, quite to the contrary even: a lot is happening, with very frequent variations in the use of instrument and sonority, creating tense and even dense listening experience.

If you ever thought that solo percussion is boring, and only of interest to percussionists, think again.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Ingar Zach & Speak Percussion - Before Nightfall One (Sofa, 2018)


Without a doubt, Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach is one of the most creative musicians in modern music. In his own way, he redefined with bands such as "Dans Les Arbres" and "Mural", as well in the various ensembles he's set up over the years. Percussion instruments exist for story-telling.  They can create a world of abstract meaning and felt emotion, resulting from the careful and precise use of the full sonic possibilities of instruments.

On "Before Nightfall One", he is accompanied by Speak Percussion from Melbourne, Australia, represented by Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Schack-Arnott, both also on percussion, as you might have guessed. A one-day rehearsal led to these thirty minutes of a percussive soundworld. The trio offers a constantly shifting sonic narrative, which at times comes across as the backdrop noise of a very active industrial environment, morphing into the soundtrack of a horror movie when desolation and anxiety take over the energy and the feelings, then morphing even further into piercing and scraping and intrusive layered sounds that result in the tingling skin sensation better known as "autonomous sensory meridian response" (ASMR), a kind of addictive noise reaction on the human nervous system which can become highly addictive.

Zach turns this into art.


Gerry Hemingway - Reality Axis - For Solo Percussion The music of Sarah Weaver (SyncSource, 2018) 

From the very first touches on the cymbals, you can feel that there is tension in the air, of the kind that grabs your attention and invites you to keep listening, fascinated by what's happening. Gerry Hemingway needs no introduction anymore, with more than a dozen of his albums reviewed on this blog. Hemingway plays a structured composition by Sarah Weaver, a New York-based contemporary composer, conductor, technologist, educator, and researcher working internationally as a specialist in Network Arts. She has been very active in creating network performances, using the internet as a connector to unite performances in different locations. Events take place over very high- bandwidth internet utilizing specialized network audio and video technology for low-latency, multichannel, performance-quality experience.

The composition and the performance are complex, yet also light at the same time, in the sense that the music is focused on limited parts of Hemingway's kit, and not all over the place, even to the contrary, silence and quiet moments give a sense of space to the improvisations which the performer is allowed to create around the graphic score. Hemingway is a versatile performer, and the end result is a crisp and inventive. On the last track a single note is electronically sustained as a linear beacon for the brisk and supple drumming. Weaver explains her concept as: "The works utilize pluralism structures such as multiplicity, polyrhythm, and simultaneity, together with nodal intersections, alignments, and attention strategies, to result in multidimensional resonance through integral synthesis". Regardless, the music can be enjoyed also by non-percussionists, although may find even more to savour.


Tim Daisy - Configurations (Relay, 2018) 


Two years ago, Tim Daisy released "Relucent" on his Relay label, and now, two years later, the Chicagoan offers us a new solo percussion album. The drummer has been reviewed on a few dozen albums in the last few years already, so he needs no further introduction.

On "Configurations" he further explores the possibilities of rhythm, timbre and sound, using selected instrument alone or in combination: drums, marimba, Califones, metal percussion, bass xylophone, transistor radios, bells, chains, sticks, mallets and brusheds.

The artist emphasises that no overdubs have been used. When listening to the music, this is possibly one of the most amazing features, especially on "Sonic Feels". But I think the most amazing feature is that Daisy seems to enjoy himself, as he is also not shy to share moments of fun with the listener, as on "The Echo Song" or "The Wobbly Insect". Most tracks are very focused and relatively short. Because of the use of marimba, melodic parts give the listener some variation from the pure percussive parts.

The solo format clearly allows Daisy to tell some different musical stories than would be possible in an ensemble setting. And from the quality and the pleasure that is to be heard on this album, we can only encourage him to keep doing this in the future.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


João Pais Filipe - João Pais Filipe (Lovers & Lollypops, 2018)


Of all the albums reviewed here, João Pais Filipe starts with the most rhythmic and energetic intro you can imagine. No frills, just straight and fast drumming, starting to bifurcate and ramify to other toms and bells and gongs, without ever relinquishing the basic beat. He call his own music "ethno techno" and you can understand why. Even if the drumming is acoustic, the core beat is so immaculately regular that it sounds like the repeat button on a rhythm software, but then it doesn't, because minor changes start happening, and the whole piece keeps evolving and expanding on the beat in a wonderful polyrhythmic techno fest.

João Pais Filipe is a Portuguese percussionist, and we know him from the recently reviewed "Space Quartet", but also from other bands such as "Pedro Contida" and "Fail Better!". Again a Portuguese musician who changes the boundaries of what is expected from a musician. Or even stronger, when most solo percussion albums turn their instrumental skills into timbral explorations and away from rhythm, Pais Filipe does the exact opposite.

As the liner note say: "he took the machine's place in order to understand if androids do dream of electric sheep ... only to find out they started with ethno techno".

More than worth listening to, and possibly of great interest to drummers. A more than trance-inducing hypnotic experience.

Listen and download from Bandcamp or watch one of the tracks in the nice video below.



Sarah Hennies -  Fleas (Ultraviolet Light, 2018)


Sarah Hennies is a composer of modern music, writing for theater and film, but also a vibraphone player herself. On Fleas, she is joined by Leslie Brack, Bubba Crumrine,  Doug McLaren,  Anna McCormick, Matthew Saccuccimorano,  Benjamin Torrey and Brian Wilson who all perform the music with bells that were found in thrift stores and flea markets (hence the title). The first part starts chime-like, creating a friendly and familiar atmosphere that is interrupted by heavy banging near the end. The second part gives a kind of mirror image. The beating drum leads the track, but then gradually the bells take over and lead us into near silence. The end result is interesting, welcoming and disorienting at the same time.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


In Quattro - In Quattro (Floating Forest Records, 2017) ****


"In Quattro" is unique. It is a percussion quartet. They bring us two lengthy improvised pieces, one of thirty-six and one of twenty minutes, giving themselves - and the listener - time to build and develop their musical concept. In contrast to some of the other albums reviewed here, rhythm is very high on their agenda, as is sound colour, and the shifting levels of density as the pieces progress. 

All four percussionists have a different angle of attack: Francesco D'Auria's drumming is more jazzy, Brian Quinn only plays on a bare drumkit, Andrea Cocco adds some electronics to his playing, and Davide Merlino plays prepared vibraphone next to his drums. The result is a fascinating listening experience of subtle and intense low-density interaction. These are not four machos fighting to be heard - these are not rock drummers, but four artists co-creating a common musical language. The self-restraint, the discipline, the common sense of pace and subtlety of execution are proportional to the four musicians' creativity and freedom. That doesn't mean that there are no moments of violence and high volume beats - there certainly are - but they are used to good dramatic effect, to contrast with the more silent moments or to give a break in the more complex parts. 

The end result is clever, smart, creative and entertaining, combining mesmerising and tribal moments with nuanced and precise rhythmic landscapes, and it could only have been created by musicians who understand each others' instruments and each other completely. 

And it is great fun too. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Patti Cudd - Eos (Innova, 2017)


Even if already a year old, it is also good to mention this album by Patti Cudd, percussionist and educator. For this album she commissioned new compositions or used existing material from 16 composers: Cort Lippe, Brian Ferneyhough, Christian Wolff, Per Bloland, Jeff Herriott, Barry Moon, Margaret Schedel, Christopher Howard, Christopher Burns, James Dillon, Eric Lyon, Paul Elwood, Konstantinos Karathanasis, Brett Wartchow, Scott Miller, Chapman Welch, Morton Feldman and Pamela Madsen. 

Most of the pieces also use real-time electronics, enhancing, repeating and changing some of the sounds, even if acoustic percussion stays the main sound to be heard. The music is both challenging and interesting, mainly because of the huge variety of approaches, their singular line of attack and character of each track. It is a triple CD, so listening to the whole album in one go may be a challenge for anyone time-wise, but listening to it in bits and pieces does not really reduce its attractiveness. The performances were recorded between 1996 and 2015. The CD has a very extensive booklet explaining the concept of each piece. 

Listen and download from the label.

Otzir Godot - Texthead (Eppato, 2018)


Based in Helsinki, Finland, Godot calls himself a "drum poet", and in a way that describes his music well. On "Texthead", he explores the sounds of his instrument in relatively short pieces, more interested in overall timbre and resonance than in actual drumming. The end result is one of silence interspersed with dramatic effects.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Matt Hannafin - John Cage - Four Realizations for Solo Percussion (Notice, 2018)


More "classical" percussion by John Cage and performed by Matt Hannafin. The percussionists selects to early pieces by Cage, "Variations II" and "Variations III", both from the early sixties to figure centrally on this album. Two later works from the 90s, "cȻomposed Improvisation for One-Sided Drums with or without Jangles" and "One4", bookend the album. As you can imagine from Cage compositions, the focus is about sound as an element of space and silence, as if a reflection of noise from the street or from nature re-arranged in a more abstract and aesthetic way.

Hannafin's playing is both very contained and explorative, disciplined and inventive. Interestingly enough, even the earliest works of Cage for solo percussion would still hold their ground in today's avant-garde. A real treat.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Mark Fell - Intra (Boomkat Editions, 2018)


I am not too familiar with the work of Mark Fell, but from what I read about him, it appears to be complex and multi-faceted. He's a techno man, an electronics composer, with clear ideas about the role of music, and the potential of music in society. Like us, it makes him sick how music often gets mistreated in popular TV and radio environments and sacrificed on the altar of commerce.

But regardless of the philosophy, on "Intra", his approach is explained by the subtitle "computer-generated rhythm for microtonal metallophones", and that is what you get, even if you have no inkling what it might mean sonically. According to the liner notes, "Making use of a kind of conceptual future-primitivism, Fell probes the perceptive difference between ideas of simplicity and complexity by sending instructions to acoustic drummers via electronic triggers relayed through headphones".

The quartet performing the compositions are João Dias, Miguel Bernat, Pedro Oliveira and Saulo Giovannini.

This is music that will certainly appeal to afficionados of Ingar Zach, Dans Les Arbres, and other quiet percussion ensembles. Listening intently to it will bring you in a dreamlike state, surprised at the multitude of pleasant and intimate pointillist little beats that collectively sound like rhythmic rain, or orchestrated chimes. Highly unusual, and relatively accessible too.


Dane Rousay - Neuter (Self, 2018) 


Dane Rousay is an American-Canadian percussionist living in San Antonio, Texas. Like so many other drummers in free improvisation, Rousay wants to move away from the time-keeping role, and create sounds herself, and as a consequence, a solo album makes sense, and risky for a young musician with limited recorded output, even if this release is a cassette with only twenty minutes of music. In two years of recording, this is already her sixth solo album, and the fourth this year, after "Divide", "IMP/ENV" and “An Inevitable Solution (To)”. It shows a lot of determination to find her place in improvised music, and she has a story to tell, especially on the traditional drum kit as on this album. At the same time, developing a personal voice and musical vision are equally important. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.



For more "solo percussion" albums, check the "Topics" button in the right column.



2 comments:

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  2. FOTIS NIKOLAKOPOULOSDecember 26, 2018 at 10:48 PM

    It might not be a "jazz" album per se, but i would definitely add Eli Keszler's Stadium as a worth mentioning recording.

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