Shepard Express: [“Archetypes” is] appealing music with a universal context, played at the highest level

Published on January 12, 2023 by Brendan Fox       |      Share this post!

“This was appealing music with a universal context, played at the highest level.”

The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center is an attractive arts venue that on Friday hosted an attractive program. Guitarist Sergio Assad and his daughter, pianist/singer Clarice Assad, joined Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion to play through their new collaborative album Archetypes. Each piece was a portrait of a type of a character across human cultures, like a sage or a jester. Sergio and Clarice composed the bulk of these pieces, with four authored by members of the percussion quartet.

I was familiar with Third Coast Percussion as a well-respected entity in the contemporary music scene, but at this event I saw an ensemble earnestly trying to shatter conventions of a “classical” music concert. The pieces were not listed in the program booklet, so they could be breezily introduced from the stage. And the music itself bore traces of contemporary art music, but also crossed over into cinematic styles.

Highlights abounded over these 12 short pieces. The opener, “Rebel”, had the percussionists enter theatrically with various shakers before launching into mixed-meter grooves. Clarice’s wordless vocals capped off the texture nicely. “Ruler” gave Sergio Assad a noble guitar lead, backed by unpitched percussion flourishes that included old-fashioned hand fans opening and closing.

Given the timbral capabilities of a percussion quartet, I wished the instrumentation in the first half didn’t rely so much on marimba and vibraphone. But this changed after intermission. “Jester” was a tour-de-force of percussion instruments traditionally used for comic effect, from mouth harp to slide whistles. What a riot to hear them all at once! The ensemble pulled off this piece with sly comic timing. The “Sage” piece was perhaps the most experimental, with rumbles of piano string resonance and some pre-recorded vocal syllables flitting through the sound system. “Explorer” finished the concert strong with driving rhythms and virtuosity.

Archetypes succeeded in charming the Wilson Center’s suburban audience. This was appealing music with a universal context, played at the highest level. You can enjoy it with a nice glass of wine as you meditate on history or sneak it into your dinner-party rotation and watch your guests steadily become intrigued.

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