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Alejandro Coello: Percussion Theory

Dan Bilawsky By

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The music of Spanish percussion master Alejandro Coello doesn't slot easily into any categorical opening, and it's likely he prefers it that way. A sharp-minded individualist, he creates compelling works that nod toward contemporary percussion ensemble aesthetics, modern classicism and chamber jazz all at once.

Utilizing his own instrumental gifts along with those of classically-oriented saxophonist Xabier Casal, beyond-category guitarist Diego Barber, legendary studio-fusion drum icon Simon Phillips, and percussion outfit Art Government, Coello bridges a gap that typically appears insurmountable. For anybody who's ever felt that percussion ensemble work is too stiff or restrictive, modernistic composition ideals are inaccessible, and chamber jazz has simply lost its luster, these seven works may just turn the tide.

Opening on the caffeinated "9th Street Espresso," Coello and company paint a wide-eyed and wondrous picture of New York's intense beauty. There are jump cuts and detours aplenty—a rush of energy gives way to a placid vibraphone transition, a surfing saxophone cedes space for a mallet dance party, a foreboding drum episode dissipates as levity saunters in —but the composition is remarkably solid in its design. It's stitch-hidden patchwork at its finest.

Coello's fondness for expansiveness carries across the other tracks, but no two numbers are alike. "Xochitl," taking its title from the Nahuatl work for flower, is, to steal Billy Strayhorn's words, a lovesome thing; "Period" plays dark and uncertain in its unfolding, leaning further away from the light than any of its company; "Switch," with its electronic enhancements, proves wonderfully trippy and grooving; and "Denial State (Music For A Short Film)" presents with a menacing sweep that needs no visual for enhancement.

The album's parting tracks, while fitting nicely in the mix, stand apart by zooming in on the Coello-Barber kinship. "Malpaises" finds guitar and marimba brilliantly navigating stony terrain reflective of the topography of Tenerife—the largest of the Canary Islands, where some of Coello's relatives reside. And Barber's own "Kilian's Mountain," crafted specifically for the occasion, is a tour de force for piano, percussion ensemble and drum set. While there's value in sticking to a single school of thought, Percussion Theory shows us that there's also tremendous power to be found in pluralistic pursuits.

Track Listing: 9th Street Espresso; Xochitl; Period; Switch; Denial State (Music For A Short Film); Malpaises; Kilian's Mountain.

Personnel: Alejandro Coello: percussion, piano; Simon Phillips: drums; Xabier Casal: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Diego Barber: guitar.

Title: Percussion Theory | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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