Sunday, December 15, 2019

New Third Coast Percussion Album Disappoints

from the Web page for the album being discussed

Some readers may recall that the Third Coast Percussion (TCP) quartet of Chicago-based percussionists Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore gave its second concert for San Francisco Performances (SFP) this past April. The program featured the West Coast premiere of “Perpetulum,” a piece written for them by Philip Glass for which SFP served to co-commission the work. That piece was subsequently featured on an Orange Mountain CD with the same title.

The SFP recital also included a performance of Devonté Hynes’ “Perfectly Voiceless,” which was originally composed for a 75-minute dance piece. The except from the full score lasted for about ten minutes; and, in many ways, it served as a perfect complement to Glass’ approach to working with “repetition and change” (a phrase than can be found in his memoir Words Without Music). This past October, Cedille Records released TCP’s latest recording, Fields, which is devoted entirely to compositions by Hynes.

If “Perfectly Voiceless” served to pique the attention of the serious listener, Fields, taken as a whole, is likely to make that serious listener reconsider. The accompanying booklet is both written and organized in such a way that I was reminded of a former colleague sitting next to me at a thoroughly inept technical talk and whispering in my ear, “Is there such a thing as negative information?” If there is, then it can be found in the Fields booklet. The music being performed is not much better.

The title of the album is taken from the last of the eleven movements of a suite by Hynes entitled For All Its Fury. The remaining tracks are then devoted to “Perfectly Voiceless” (as TCP had performed it in San Francisco) and “There Was Nothing.” All of the movements of For All Its Fury are mercifully short; but none of them rise above the level of the sort of navel-gazing that was so popular among the tune-in-drop-out culture of the Sixties.

Was this project meant to be nostalgia for a time that predated the births of both composer and performers? If so, then listening to the album as a whole amounts to a trip that is really not worth taking. Yes, a lot of provocatively inventive acts of creation took place way back then; but very few (if any) of them stand up to being rehashed in the present. After all, Glass himself has always situated himself in his own immediate present without having to dig around in the attic of his past; and “Perpetulum” was a perfect example of his own present-day thinking. Fields may not offer negative information, but it is hard to resist being dismissed as an aggravating waste of time.

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