How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Percussionist Marilyn Mazur is a prime example of why many drummers these days are prone to listing themselves also as percussionists. The distinction is important beyond the number of instruments available to the player and involves the attitude towards their place in any musical enterprise.
Drummer/percussionists like Paul Motian, Jon Christensen or Tony Oxley might not play as many instruments as Mazur, but their contribution to the music is more of a voice that happens to be percussive rather than just a time keeper.
Elixir is a magical, entrancing album that entices the listener primarily through sound rather than rhythm or pulse. Mazur plays not only many different kinds of drums but also pitched instruments including marimba, bowed vibraphone, waterphone and various gongs and bells. The resultant sounds create an aura in which time stops, carrying us away to mysterious places that feel very large.
Mazur's decision to include saxophonist Jan Garbarek (who also plays flute), comes from her long association with him (both recording on ECM and playing live) and the desire to collaborate with herself leading.
The duo tracks are successful in that Garbarek emphasizes tone and line over techniquein other words, he values the sound he makes as much or more than the harmonic implications of the line he plays. However, although Garbarek plays on about half the tracks, which are short and average around three minutes, the most involving are those in which he plays within an arrhythmic context and his sound is but a partner with those from Mazur.
The less successful tracks, that is, those which have the least surprise, are the dances such as "Dunun Song," "Joy Chant," "Spirit Of Sun," "Totem Dance" and "River." In comparison to the rhythmically free or rubato tracks, the pulse feels like a straightjacket, especially when combined with Garabek's repetitive phrasing.
The rest of the album is exquisite, opening and closing with "Clear" and "Clear Recycle" that are announced with huge resonant gongs over which Garbarek plays a long-limbed theme that gracefully advances and recedes. All is mystery, huge spaces and a timelessness uncorrupted by a strict pulse.
Placed within these bookends are "Pathway" and "Winter Wish," which lead into and out of the interior tracks of the album. The essence of Mazur's playing is a combination of amazing techniquethere are no overdubsand a sure sense of development.
The solo pieces work exceedingly well not only because of the variety of sounds that Mazur can produce, but especially because she creates sound cells that are treated in much the same way a phrase would be by a player of a pitched instrument. The musicthese are not mere drum soloscarry us ever forward to the end of each track, many of which could easily have been longer.
Mazur creates music of beauty and surprising variety on Elixir, even, or especially without Garbarek, inviting us into her special sound world.
Track Listing: Clear; Pathway; Dunun Song; Joy Chant; Bell-Painting; Elixir; Orientales; Metal Drew; Mother Drum; Mountain
Breath; Creature Walk; Spirit of Air; Spirit of Sun; Sheep Dream; Talking Wind; Totem Dance; The Siren in the
Well; River; On the Move; Winter Wish; Clear Recycle.
Personnel: Marilyn Mazur: percussion; Jan Garbarek: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute.