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Monday, April 26, 2021

Some Recent Solo Percussion

By Nick Ostrum

Scott Clark – This Darkness (Out of Your Head Records, 2021) ****

Apart from a few references on OOYH materials (he is involved with the label), I was largely unfamiliar with Scott Clark’s work. A quick search online, however, shows the drummer and composer has released a few albums as leader for Clean Feed (Bury My Heart and To Now), and he seems to have another ten or so releases under his belt. He is young, but seasoned. And, as This Darkness reveals, he has a striking musical maturity, evident in his patience and precision.

The Darkness is a departure for OOYH, which hitherto has released numerous more straightforwardly “free jazz” and contemporary composition/improv releases. On this album, the track titles are an excerpt from a Rilke poem, “Let this Darkness Be a Belltower,” a poem about perseverance and adaptation, finding one’s self and purpose in a period of gloomy uncertainty. The titles read: “Quiet friend/who has come so far/let this darkness/be a belltower/and you the bell.” Quite fitting for this loose verbal score, The Darkness is an album of gloom and gloam, but also of discovery and, toward the end, something approaching clarity. The sonic range extends from Quiet Friend, who evokes Kraftwerk’s quirky techno-ritualism to minimalist metallic clang and drum-set scrapes, rattles, and thuds to the final track, And you the Bell, which consists of tempered full-set work. As many solo percussion albums, The Darkness narrates a story, or trace a journey, in this case through tenebrous spaces.

The quarantine inspiration may seem obvious. However, recorded a year too early in May 2019, This Darkness seems to speak either of a more personal and intimate experience of the lugubrious, or of a wider, non-Covid shadow cast across the land. Either way, cue that fatalistically optimistic epic line from New Speedway Boogie: “One way or another, this darkness got to give.” This Darkness seems to be making a similar statement of resigned resilience albeit in a more abstract, amelodic shape.

This Darkness is available as a digital download and vinyl, which is currently being pressed.


Susie Ibarra – 7.11.19 (Otoroku, 2020) ****½

I had not listened to any new Susie Ibarra material since the mid-2000’s, when she went on hiatus from recording. A quick internet search indicates this break was brief, and, by the mid-2010’s, she was back on the scene. (Incidentally, this is around the time I caught her and Evan Parker on a magical night at the old Stone.) Ibarra had always stuck out to me as a drummer of unusual vision in the free jazz world. She had the chops, but she always seemed to be pulling her drums into a more progressive (prog minus the rock) direction than many of my favorite drummers who were happy to keep digging deeper into the jazz and clangorous avant-garde traditions.

Like Clark, Ibarra seems more interested in the development of the piece than virtuosic eruptions or catch-all machine-gun strafe. Instead, 7.11.19 undulates. I have listened several times now and the 40-plus minutes fly by. Or rather, time stretches. Or, something happens wherein I simply get lost in the performance. 7.11.19 has a time bending ceremony to it, but Ibarra takes the performance beyond the conventional repetition and layering with playing that is subtly commanding and varied, and affecting. This is no small feat. Although I love the idea of isolating an instrument and pushing it to its limits, solo percussion albums often appeal to me more in theory than in practice. Despite some strong efforts (and too many exceptions to name), they too often fall into the background for me after a few listens. This is not the case with Ibarra. She plays with unwavering concentration and meticulous attention to the details of textures and timbres that is all the more impressive given that, as far as I know, this is improvised. To be honest, I am not sure what exactly Ibarra does differently than others, here. Maybe it is her confident restraint, and attention to bricolage as process rather than product. Maybe it is her still firm free jazz chops, which inform her playing more than adorn it. Whatever it is, Ibarra’s got it. Just take a listen.

7.11.19 is available as a digital download via the Otoroku shop.


rod j said...

2 interesting releases thanks.

Another excellent new solo percussion album is from Marshall Trammell

Nick Ostrum said...

Thanks for the reference, rod. This had not been on my radar, but it has an interesting concept behind it.

Richard said...

I share Nick's comments, that Marshall Trammell link sounds really interesting. I hadn't heard of him, but I see he has worked with Tashi Dorji and William Winant among others. Thank you, Rod J.