Payton Macdonald: Super Marimba 2
Kaida Music

Payton MacDonald expands upon the concept documented on his first Super Marimba recording by bringing bassist Todd Sickafoose (Blood Orange, Ani Difranco) and drummer Theo Metz (Slow Six) into the fold for the follow-up album's opening three tracks. Not that Macdonald's music has holes it needs filled when the percussionist already deploys looping machines and delay pedals to generate multiple rhythmic layers of his own playing in real-time. But certainly the presence of other musicians broadens out the material and lessens the insular feel that can sometimes result when a musician is recorded sans guests. Recorded in one take with no additional overdubbing, Super Marimba II thoroughly documents Macdonald's virtuosity (he even manages to play drums and marimba during “(K)chaone”) but is also a stellar showcase for his composing ability (in addition to performing in Alarm Will Sound, a NY-based new-music group similar in spirit to Icebreaker and The Bang On A Can All-Stars, MacDonald teaches music at William Paterson University). In fact, the Super Marimba project is so important to Macdonald he regards it as the “nexus point” of all of his artistic activities since it draws upon his knowledge of tabla drumming, Western classical composition, and jazz improvisation.

That the album's focus is almost exclusively marimba shouldn't deter the curious listener from checking it out, since the instrument is repeatedly subjected to radical transformations that, depending on the track, bring it closer to the timbre of a synthesizer or guitar. As a result, the background patterns in “Vignette” may be clearly recognizable as marimba-generated but the melodic material laid over top could pass for treated electronic keyboards and guitars. Sickafoose and Metz provide relaxed a solid support for the marimba showers that rains down upon “Hazel, Orange ” where Macdonald distorts his instrument's natural sound by running it through effects pedals. “Voices” in particular impresses as it juxtaposes somber, glass orchestra-like tones with advancing and receding waves of chattering marimbas. Super Marimba II is often anything but a polite exercise in percussion rudiments, as the cataclysmic firestorm with which “Chanting Rishis on Burning Sands” ends makes clear, and listeners may find themselves spent by album's end, given the dizzying effect the tracks' multi-layered percussive patterns can produce (something intimated by the title of the penultimate piece, “Welkin Swarm”). All credit to Macdonald, however, for once again single-handedly stretching the percussive boundaries in provocative manner.

April 2009