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Difficult to Classify

Performances by the
Ethos Percussion Group -
recommended by

'... performing excellence ...'

Building. © 2008 Ethos Percussion Group Inc

Many modern compositions are difficult to classify. Today's international travel and ubiquitous Internet have exposed composers to a greater diversity of musical styles and techniques than ever before. That's great for composers, and sometimes listeners, but it does make it harder for us ink-stained wretches (pardon the anachronism) to give readers an idea of whether or not they will be interested in a new release.

The Ethos Percussion Group is a case-in-point. Jazz? African? Latin? Classical? Yes to all. I don't know how much of Break It Down, for example, is written out rather than improvised, but it could pass for a jazz-percussion jam-session. Well, maybe except for the gankoqui, kaganu and klobotodzi -- instruments not often used by Buddy Rich, or even Keith Moon. This excerpt, from the first of the four commissioned works on the program, demonstrates a jazz influence.

Listen -- Robert Levin: Break It Down
(track 1, 5:28-6:35) © 2008 Ethos Percussion Group Inc

The title of the piece refers to the way the four percussionists break apart a drum set, each using a different component. A persistent three-note rhythm, played first on a drum, can be heard as the pattern of the title.

African rhythms appear throughout the recording, here for instance.

Listen -- Susie Ibarra: These Trees That Speak
(track 2, 1:30-2:38) © 2008 Ethos Percussion Group Inc

The marimba is prominent in the piece and is assigned some of the few conventional melodic fragments on the album.

Latin has center stage on The Guiros Talk. The Guiro is a South American instrument made from a gourd and played by tapping it or running a wooden stick along a serrated edge.

Listen -- Dafnis Prieto: The Guiros Talk
(track 3, 1:34-2:46) © 2008 Ethos Percussion Group Inc

Rhythms reach a peak of drive and complexity here.

Listen -- Dafnis Prieto: Claveteando (The Guiros Talk)
(track 4, 7:09-8:35) © 2008 Ethos Percussion Group Inc

The last work on the program is closest to more conventional contemporary classical music, though the instrumentation is far from that. A toy glockenspiel, a snare drum and cappuccino frothers(!) are used to generate unusual percussive sounds, often hinting at electronics.

Listen -- John Hollenbeck: Ziggurat (Interior)
(track 5, 10:26-11:43) © 2008 Ethos Percussion Group Inc

The inventive Ethos Percussion Group has been together for about twenty years. Although near total emphasis on rhythms and percussive timbres limits their audience, they reward attention with performing excellence, precision, exotic variety and clever interplay.


Copyright © 22 April 2009 Ron Bierman,
San Diego, USA





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