October 25, 2019
by Richard S. Ginell
“Percussion fans and audiophiles will have an especially good time with this package.”
“…a potent, ear-seducing collection…”
From out of Chicago, Third Coast Percussion weighs in with a potent, ear-seducing collection of contemporary percussion music. This might be the four-man troupe’s highest-profile release yet in that they managed to get the octogenarian Philip Glass to write his first work for percussion group for them with the help of a long, long list of co-commissioning organizations and individuals. Also, it’s on Glass’ own Orange Mountain Music label, even though the designated Glasswork only occupies less than a fourth of the two-disc set’s playing time.
The Glass piece is called Perpetulum, and it operates unlike any other Glass piece that I can think of. Cast in four continuous sections, it opens not with typical Glass patterns and arpeggios, but with a series of percussion grooves closer in feel to Varèse’s Ionisation than anything by this composer. Two of the succeeding sections are signaled by slow majestic rolls of the tam-tam, another is labeled as a “cadenza” that contain fresh arpeggios that don’t seem to be reprocessed from Glass’ database. The last part starts as a Latinized workout that eventually settles into the most conventional (relatively speaking) Glass progression of the piece. While Glass has been so prolific that it’s hard to keep up to date with everything he has done lately, this is easily one of the most enjoyable, inventive, and least recycled things he’s done in the last decade at least.
Another major new work in the set is Gavin Bryars’ The Other Side of the River, which has a wholly different personality. Bryars launches a typically quiet opening with marimba tremolos and minimal invention on top, eventually developing a more animated central ostinato that runs out of steam four minutes before the end. There is peace on the other side of this river, and maybe that’s the point of the exercise, a longing for an alternative to the noise and chaos on our side of the water.
The rest of the album is devoted to percussion pieces by three of TCP’s four members with no liner notes to guide us, just our ears. The most imposing of them is David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities, a big colorful suite that takes up the entire first disc. These seven minimalist workouts are heavily influenced by Steve Reich in rhythm and, to some extent, Glass, in the minor-key motifs. Just exactly what this invigorating music has to do with aliens is completely left up to our imaginations (maybe someone who binge-watches the History Channel’s obsession with extraterrestrials would have an answer). Peter Martin’s brief BEND for mostly marimbas just staggers along for awhile with delicate pinpoint sounds, unsure of its direction, while Robert Dillon’s Ordering-instincts is a pleasing, concise toccata for pieces of wood and metal obbligato.
Percussion fans and audiophiles will have an especially good time with this package.