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Music for Hammers and Sticks
Alex SHAPIRO (b. 1962)
At the Abyss [14:00]
Alvin SINGLETON (b. 1940)
Greed Machine [6:46]
Steve MACKEY (b.1956)
Busted [7:47]
Belinda REYNOLDS (no birth-date given)
Play [6:43]
Joseph HARCHANKO (no birth-date given)
Heavy Circles [6:37]
Zhou LONG (no birth-date given)
Wu Ji (1987 rev. 1991) [10:29]
Teresa McCollough, piano
Peggy Benkeser and Tom Burritt, percussion
rec. July 2004, Santa Clara, CA and Corpus Christi, TX.
INNOVA 630 [52:04]


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This is not the type of disc that one would necessarily put on for casual entertainment. It takes a bit of effort to listen to some of these pieces. None, however are unlistenable. For the most part all the works here are interesting, atmospheric and show considerable skill and originality.

The documentarian in me however, must get this little problem off his chest forthwith. The booklet notes for this release are absolutely maddening in the lack of completeness. Birth-dates are missing for four composers, and only one of said four had the information listed on some website; thank you Google.  Only one of the works had a composition date, and anyone who knows anything about writing program notes should know better than to omit that kind of information. Most editors, including our own fire back reviews to us poor writers when we leave it off, and frankly, a reviewer should not have to waste time doing internet searches for such basic information. There, I feel much better now.

This recital, consisting of music for percussion and piano opens with Alex Shapiro’s wonderfully descriptive At the Abyss. It is the longest work on the program, and is reflective of the composer’s concerns for current social issues including politics and ecology. Well constructed, and full of interesting sounds, the work reminded me of some of the more creative film scoring that I have heard. This is music that conjures images in the mind, and the joy of it all is that those images will vary from listener to listener.

Alvin Singleton, the most senior of the composers as far as I can tell contributes the episodic and mysterious Greed Machine for vibraphone and piano. Using both complex and simple rhythmic and harmonic structures, this is a work of contrasts. It keeps the listener on his toes. Some of the louder outbursts can be a bit startling.

Steve Mackey’s Busted makes use of an interesting juxtaposition of random rhythmic figures and passages in seven to the bar. The addition of the police whistle and the thought of the performer breaking a drum head or two is what gave the work its name.

Belinda Reynolds’ Play is perhaps the most lyrical work on the disc, its quasi-minimalist style and tuneful ambience being nice aural relief after the thundery Mackey piece. Joseph Harchanko is represented with Heavy Circles, inspired by the painting of the same name by Wassily Kandinsky. Written for percussionist Thomas Burritt, it is a virtuoso tour de force and is played with great panache and aplomb.

The disc closes with Wu Ji a work originally composed for percussion and electronic tape, but later revised for the present performers.

In all, this is an enjoyable near-hour of music, and given that we rarely get to hear works scored only for percussion ensemble, is a treat. One can hope that some more adventuresome radio programmers will get this music on the air from time to time. Aside from the annoyances in the booklet production, Innova have produced a fine sounding disc, never overbearingly loud, and in the more ambient works there is a fine bloom to the sound.

Performances are above reproach. This is fine, skilled and tasteful playing. Highly recommended to both the adventuresome and the timid alike. Take the plunge and check this one out.

Kevin Sutton



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