Album review: Perpetulum

July 2019 edition
by Geoff Brown

Lovers of vibraphones and marimbas will relish this percussion fiesta from the famous Chicago group Third Coast Percussion. Drum aficionados won’t miss out, either. And Philip Glass fans will surely pounce on the title piece, a Third Coast commission, and the 82-year-old master’s long-delayed percussion debut, written last year. Perpetulum is a fidgety piece, content for a time to test sonorities rather than make obvious music. Then three minutes in, Glass gets up to speed: rhythms hiccup, perky melodies come and go while various drums tap out those rat-tat-tat patterns that seem to herald a brilliant display by high school majorettes. Spread in patches over 21 minutes, with a throbbing ‘cadenza’ devised by the performers, it’s all childlike fun. Gavin Bryars’s The Other Side of the River, another Third Coast commission, equally idiosyncratic, is surely a sturdier achievement: lyrical and mysterious, a victory for complex textures and vibrating tones, cunningly sustained.

Of the other pieces, separately composed by three of the group’s four players, Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities offers enjoyable hammering, though I don’t know who the aliens are or why it lasts 34 minutes. In contrast, Martin’s BEND and Dillon’s more fragmentary Ordering-instincts state their case pleasantly, then leave. But whatever the length, and whether the music is shallow or deep, one delight never wavers: the thrill of percussion instruments most succulently recorded, enthusiastically hit and lovingly stroked by absolute masters of the art.

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