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Album Review: Music for Hammers and Sticks
Various Artists
Cover image of the album Music for Hammers and Sticks by Various Artists
Music for Hammers and Sticks
Various Artists
2004 / Innova Recordings
52 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Music For Hammers and Sticks (New Music for Piano and Percussion) is a varied and fascinating collection of seven pieces composed for piano and percussion by six composers. Several of the pieces were commissioned by the performers, making this a truly collaborative effort. This is very definitely “art” music or contemporary classical, and is much more challenging than some listeners will want to tackle. Those with an interest in experimental and more “serious” music should find much to enjoy with this recording. The three performers are Teresa McCollough on piano, Thomas Burritt on marimba, and Peggy Benkeser on various other percussion instruments (including police whistle!) - all artists with international reputations and performance resumes.

The CD opens with a suite of three pieces called “At the Abyss” by Alex Shapiro. The title refers to violent and threatening events around the world, and to the human species being too savage for its survival, placing us all at the edge of the “abyss” which is our future. “Observe,” the first movement, is dark and more than a little frightening - pretty heavy stuff. The second movement, “Reflect,” goes much more inward, as the title suggests. Quieter and slower, this piece clearly describes the painful thought process of dealing with such an enormous problem. “Act” is lively and more hopeful, with a strong sense of urgency and agitation. “Greed Machine” by Alvin Singleton is a “mysterious, Zen-like work for vibraphone and piano” that is full of contrasting motifs. Quiet, open passages are met with sudden bursts of sound; tranquility suddenly becomes frenzied - a fascinating piece! “Busted” by Steve Mackey is a percussion solo that utilizes the relaxed gesture of letting the mallets drop onto the drum heads and letting them bounce, contrasted with taut, tense attacks. The forceful attacks take over the complex 7/4 time to “bust” into a funkier 4/4 “groove.” The title refers to Mackey’s “need” to derail a runaway groove with a police whistle. “Play” is the first piece in a suite for duo pianists by Belinda Reynolds. She applied the process of making up music by creating words from the music alphabet, letting the variations evolve with the words dispersing into new forms. The duo on this recording is piano and marimba. I really like this piece and look forward to hearing the whole suite at some point. “Heavy Circles” by Joseph Harchanko was inspired by the Wassily Kandinsky painting by the same name. This piece was composed for and dedicated to Thomas Burritt, who performs it solo. A feeling of circular patterns spinning and dancing on a colorful backdrop make this a most interesting work. “Wu Ji” by Zhou Long reflects the composer’s Chinese heritage despite its very modern abstraction. There are several versions of this piece for varying instrumentation, and this one was done specifically for this recording and is really intense.

Music for Hammers and Sticks is available from innova.mu, amazon.com, and bn.com.
June 16, 2006
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