Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond
The title Beyond quite literally references the broad scope of this double-CD outing by the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: rather than limiting the set-list to works by West Coast artists, Beyond brings together pieces written by Icelandic composers Daníel Bjarnason and Anna Thorvaldsdottir, LA-based Andrew McIntosh and Ellen Reid, and New Yorker Christopher Cerrone. Adding to the special character of the release, the release presents premiere recordings of works commissioned by the LAPQ, making Beyond a highly personal statement by the group.
Like many a Sono Luminus release, the presentation is lavish, with the listener granted the option of hearing the eighty-six minutes of material on two CDs or a single Blu-ray surround-sound disc. A twenty-page booklet featuring photos and text is included, though curiously neither the names of the quartet members are listed (for the record, they're Matt Cook, Justin DeHart, Cory Hills, and Nick Terry) nor the instrumentation performed by them on the release. The latter detail is especially interesting because in addition to playing the expected arsenal of percussion instruments the group isn't averse to including guitar or electronics when a particular composition calls for it. This is a group, in other words, that's instrumentally capable of meeting any challenge thrown its way.
Advancing stealthily and with no small amount of mystery, Bjarnason's Qui Tollis opens with a battery of mallet instruments generating a quietly shimmering tapestry before a transition into a louder sequence sees pounding drums and mallet accents stoking primal passion; formal symmetry comes into play when the four return the music to a glassy whisper as the piece nears its end. Thorvaldsdottir's Aura offers a six-minute lesson in scene-painting at its most suggestive, melody largely eschewed for a nuanced moodscape rich in atmospheric effects and dramatic flourishes. Chimes, bells, crotales, and other metallic instruments dominate Reid's Fear-Release, which dazzles the ear with patterns that seem to alternately connect and disconnect when phrases echo between the performers in unpredictable manner; compositional structure aside, sonically the piece ravishes the ear with its wealth of shimmering timbres.
Unlike the other settings, Cerrone's Memory Palace is split into five parts, with titles such as “L.I.E.” (Long Island Expressway) and “Claremont” alluding to things familiar to New Yorkers. Scored for traditional percussion instruments and found objects (tuned metal pipes, slats of wood, etc.), the suite ranges widely, with each part given a distinct character by the composer. The placid opening section, “Harriman,” offers a dramatic deviation from a percussion-based approach in its acoustic guitar-and-electronics presentation; “Power Lines” and “Foxhurst,” on the other hand, are dominated by hammering marimba patterns and peaceful cowbell-and-glockenspiel tinklings, respectively. The rapid flow of mallet instruments powering through “L.I.E.” captures the tumult of driving on the expressway; diametric to it in mood and design is “Claremont,” which achieves a kind of becalmed, church-like splendour in its glass orchestra-like sonorities.
Another effective contrast is created in having one-half of the album devoted to short pieces and the other a single, forty-minute composition—even if its nine indexed tracks make it feel like a multipart whole. Regardless, McIntosh's I Hold the Lion's Paw is a multi-faceted work that contains multitudes and, more importantly, reflects the composer's interests in alternate tunings, gamelan music, and assorted other strategies. None of which might be of primary concern, by the way, to the listener simply captivated by a riveting sound world that builds ride cymbal patterns into luminous rain showers and thereafter punctuates them with snare rolls and replaces them with pummeling drums and bell tones. Meditative and playful sequences abound in what's a consistently engrossing presentation that's captured with remarkable clarity by the production team involved.What resonates as much as the recording's compositional range and percussive richness is the sense of pride and satisfaction implicit in the quartet's performances. Not to take anything away from a recording featuring new versions of established pieces, but there's something undeniably special about a release featuring musicians performing material they've commissioned others to create for them.