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In the end, what proves to be key to making a good percussion record is the gear the players have on hand. As with any other instrument, and probably even more so, technical ability and a sense of timing are important. But with the heavy dynamics and limited tonality of drums, the setup can be crucial.
Italian drummer Andrea Centazzo is one of the earlier players in free improv to experiment with extending the drum kit. Taking his cues from developments elsewhere in Europeprimarily England and GermanyCentazzo had expanded his kit to a solo instrument by the mid '70s. The last couple of years have seen a remarkable number of new, reissued and previously-unreleased records of his come out and the two sets of duets entitled Koans are among his earliest recordings. Playing with Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre in 1977 and Americans David Moss in 1978 and a 24-year-old Alex Cline in 1980, the recordings show Centazzo's strength lying with the metal: Cymbals, chimes and gongs leap out against the sound of the drum kits. The strongest entry across the two discs is a 15-minute composed piece with Centazzo, Favre and a 20-piece percussion ensemble. There, more than anywhere else across the discs, advantage is taken of the power of synchronized percussion.
Californian Marcos Fernandes and New Yorker Mike Pride complement their set with modern tools. Recorded in 2005, their A Mountain is a Mammal pits percussion against beds of sounds. The first half-hour tends toward drums with atmospherics. It's an organic and meditative segment, where the electronics and field recordings (made around New York City) fall to the background and the light, slow drums dominate. The third track, however, takes a different turn for the final six minutes, layered with alien sounds and buried, guttural vocals. It's a surprising move, an unusual piece of audio work and the best part of the record.
Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly go for the stripped-approach for their duet Boombox Babylon, confining themselves to the kits in an unaffected set. The strength of it comes from their being a part of the cross-fertilization of the Chicago scene. Both are members of Ken Vandermark's Crisis Ensemble and Dave Rempis' Percussion Quartet and the two clearly know how to play with each other. That's the strength of the disc. There's a familiarity there, a relaxed nature that saves them from sounding like they're just trying to be heard. However where the other discs here hold pleasant surprises, theirs is what might be expected of a drum duo. It's an economical set, but ends up feeling like the players were limited by the gear on hand.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Koan 1-16, 20-39; Daruma Said 1-5; Not Alone; Apocalypse in Drumming; The Berlin Session 1-3; There's Always an Ending.
Personnel: Pierre Favre David Moss Alex Cline Steve Hubback Jeffrey Daniel Jensen Per Oliver Jorgens Andrea Centazzo: percussion.
A Mountain is a Mammal
Tracks: # welcome whom find it becoming; # a little more dangerous; # is anything more than everything.