Thursday 14 May 2020

Sandbox Percussion: 'And That one Too' on Coviello Classics

And that one too - Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Amy Beth Kirsten, Thomas Kotcheff; Sandbox Percussion; Coviello Classics
And that one too
- Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Amy Beth Kirsten, Thomas Kotcheff; Sandbox Percussion; Coviello Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 May 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A striking debut disc from the young American percussion quartet, featuring four works written for them

Sandbox Percussion is an American percussion quartet currently making a name for themselves. The group made its UK debut at the 2019 Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival when they premiered a piece by Benjamin Wallace for percussion quartet and fairground organ!

For Sandbox Percussion's debut album, on Coviello Classics, And That One Too, they perform music by Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Amy Beth Kirsten and Thomas Kotcheff. Sandbox Percussion is Jonny Allen, Victor Caccese, Ian David Rosenbaum and Terry Sweeney.

The disc opens with Andy Akiho's Haiku 2, the second of six short pieces he wrote for a contemporary music ensemble in 2011. Akiho has created a new version for percussion quartet, scored for tuned ceramic bowls, metal pipes, wooden slats, a metal pot lid, a glass bottle and a piece of scrap metal. The result is very seductive, as if Ravel's Princess and the Pagodas had come to land in a 21st century percussion quartet. Though wordless, the piece does observe the conventions of haiku with its rhythmic structure.
The opening movement of David Crowell's Music for Percussion Quartet, 'Fluctuation' is similarly highly seductive in the way that Crowell's use of polyrhythms makes the music shimmer, though he introduces disruptive elements too. The piece features Crowell's own performance on electric guitar. The second movement, 'Sky' features a different type of shimmering, with a sense of gorgeous stasis. This seems to continue into 'Oscillation' but here the polyrhythms recur. Finally, the meditative calm of 'Landscape'. The notes do not provide much information about the scoring of these pieces, which is a shame those of us with limited knowledge of the percussion repertoire.

Amy Beth Kirsten's she is a myth is a work for three voices and percussion quartet. It is related to Kirsten's far larger work QUIXOTE, inspired by the Cervantes novel, and she is a myth arises out of the writing of Luis de Gongora (d. 1627) whose work Kirsten came across when reading up for the QUIXOTE project. Kirsten provides all three vocal lines. The work was originally written for three percussion and three voices and premiered by the Riot Ensemble, this new version was commissioned by Sandbox Percussion. Kirsten's vocals very much forms the focus of the piece, and there is something rather 1950s girl group about the writing, albeit filtered through modern sensibility.

With Thomas Kotcheff's not only that one but that one & that too we return to just four percussionists. In three parts, each focuses on a different area of percussion, wood, skins and metal. But Kotcheff's aim was also to write distinctive music for each of Sandbox Percussion's players. Part one focuses on wooden instruments, and Kotcheff takes instruments which are used symphonically for a single hit (whip, vibraslap, woodblock) and makes them the centre of attention in music which is both subtle and full of colour. Part two is about drumming, bringing in Kotcheff's diverse influences as a love of march band, the dance/percussion show STOMP, the Blue Man Group and watching street drummers. The movement starts off quite subtle, showing that hitting drums does not always have to be about agression, and gradually Kotcheff picks up the pace so the movement ends in a real virtuoso manner. Part three is about pitched metal instruments (temple bowls, deskbells, metal pipes) and finger cymbals, again starting from quiet subtlety evoking wind chimes and temple bells, developing in complexity and then seeming to recede again.

Inevitably, with a mixed disc like this not every piece will appeal to the listener equally. But throughout I was impressed by Sandbox Percussion's control of timbre, texture and rhythm, to create music that was by turns seductive, dramatic and bravura.

Sandbox Percussion during the recording session
Sandbox Percussion during the recording session
And That One Too

Andy Akiho (1979) - Haiku 2 [3:16]
David Crowell - Music for Percussion Quartet [16.01]
Amy Beth Kirsten - she is a myth [6.20]
Thomas Kotcheff (born 1988) - not only that one but that one and that too [27.34]
Sandbox Percussion (Jonny Allen, VIctor Caccese, Ian David Rosenbaum and Terry Sweeney)
Recorded Seymour St John Chapel, Wallingford, CT, USA, 12-14 March 2019, GOod Child Music Studios, Brooklyn, New York, 5-6 May 2018

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