February 12, 2016
by James Manheim
Percussion music represents an important strand in the output of minimalist composer Steve Reich, and this release by the ensemble Third Coast Percussion, whose members cheerfully admit they weren’t even born when Reich first came on the scene, shows how the genre has continued to interest him. The works involved span several decades, from Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) to 2009’s Mallet Quartet. It’s notable that Reich’s language, unlike those of his minimalist-pioneer compatriots, hasn’t fundamentally changed during this period. Instead, he explores percussion-defined spaces and processes in different ways. The Nagoya Marimbas (1996) receives a performance that, in the words of the players, “blends the characteristic Reich marimba sound with an expressive, nuanced approach to dynamic shaping”; the upshot seems to be a reading that lands toward the communicative end of the spectrum of Reich performances. Music for Pieces of Wood, one of the original works in which Reich transferred his electronic phase-process discoveries to the realm of live musicians, remains as entrancing as it was 43 years before this album was released. With crack modern players who have new wrinkles to contribute, this is a fine survey of Reich’s percussion music, released in 2016 and a fitting tribute in the composer’s 80th-birthday year.