The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet Moves Beyond

Imagine almost 86 minutes of superbly recorded percussion in which the traditional notions of steady beat, driving rhythms, and attention-catching melody rarely take center stage. Welcome to Beyond, a mind-bending /time-distorting three-disc percussion tour de force from Sono Luminus on which the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet plays a dazzling array of percussion as it explores the eloquence and beauty of color, texture, sustain and decay.

Recorded in DXD (24/352.8k), Beyond is available as either a hi-rez download in multiple formats, including DSD, or as a three-disc album that includes two Red Book CDs and a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc capable of delivering 5.1 and 9.1 Auro 3-D. Auditioned in stereo in its original DXD format, the album offers convincing evidence that recording, mixing & mastering engineer Daniel Shores deserves a Grammy nomination for engineering. If you have ever heard recordings with more convincing depictions of sustained sounds forming, blooming, and decaying in space, I want to know about them.

An international assemblage of contemporary composers—Iceland's Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Daniel Bjarnason, Brooklyn-based Christopher Cerrone, LA-based Andrew McIntosh, and New York/LA-based Ellen Reid—produces music unlike that available on most jazz recordings, let alone the three percussion classics Michael Fremer highlighted on AnalogPlanet earlier this year. (Note: Digital versions of the Smoke & Mirrors Percussion Ensemble album include compositions that did not fit on the LP.) Bjarnason's Qui Tolis begins with extremely delicate sustained rings and chimes. Save for occasional punctuations by low-pitched drums, it offers almost 10 minutes of gorgeous, high excursions whose spectral sound world will stay with you long after the track concludes.

If you keep waiting for the big bang in Thorvaldsdottir's 6:13 Aura, you will be sorely disappointed. This is music of wonder, filled with sustained, consoling sounds that have lots of space between them. Totally magical in its multi-dimensionality, Aura virtually glows from within. Far too wondrous to be pigeonholed as "meditative," Aura is one of those compositions in which you'll discover new things—new worlds, even—with repeated listening.

The second-longest work on the program, Cerrone's Memory Palace, is composed of five movements whose names reflect composer-specific references. Taken as a whole, it's a trip. "Harriman," to me, brought up reminiscences of crickets or cicadas buzzing away in the woods. In fact, at one point, I imagined a heterosexual couple embracing tenderly in a cabin before the man walked out and vanished into the dark of the forest. (Hackneyed image, I know, but that's what came up.)

Switching locales entirely, there are lots of marimba explosions in "Power Lines," but they are light years apart from those encountered in African drumming. If you thrive on resonant overtones and buckets of color, you'll likely really take to this one.

The emphasis in the third movement, "Foxhurst," is on the contrasting sounds of bells, chimes, and gongs. As the music intensifies, subsides, and then grows bigger still, the emotional impact of each collection of sounds may very well product multiple "wows." Finally, a sole "boom" leads us into "L.I.E." This is a different world again, one of wood, bamboo, and percussion, and even more intense than what preceded it. The final movement of Memory Place, "Claremont," offers a surprising semblance of melody as its windy focus consoles. Gorgeous stuff, and impossible to categorize.

Reid's Fear-Release sounds, in one sense, exactly like its title. Soft and loud, tease and disrupt are the names of the game here. Last comes the shock of McIntosh's I Hold the Lion's Paw, which actually includes what sounds like a drum kit. A nine-movement work that lasts almost 40-minutes, I found it the most conventional of the lot. But in a collection as unusual as Beyond, anything that includes instruments that sound even remotely familiar would still come across as beyond avant-garde in most compilations.

If you're game for exploring aural architecture more far poetic and profound than anything encountered in mundane reality—imagine starting with the sonic equivalent of a construction by Brazilian artist Lygia Pape (see below), which I caught at the Met Breuer Museum in New York in June thanks to a tip from Herb Reichert, and moving on from there—check out Beyond. It's also one of the most convincing arguments for hi-rez sound I know.

michaelhigh's picture

Really? When I heard it I imagined a couple of leather-clad lumberjacks lovingly sharpening their axes together...

But that's just me.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

And thanks for making the world a better place.

Bluejimbop's picture

It's not just you.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Please keep your homophobia to yourself.

Anon2's picture

It is good that we got an all-percussion recording review here. You might not want to make a full music collection of percussion music. However, it would be unwise to eschew percussion music entirely. You might find new and hitherto unheard capabilities in your audio system when you listen to the deep and rich textures of percussion music.

I am listening to "Duendando" or RNE Radio 3 now. When this is over, I'll give this recording a sample wherever I find sample clips. If I like them, and if it's on CD, I just might purchase it.

I have a young relative who studied percussion as a music minor in college. This skill has become a reliable form of moonlighting income for him in a variety of venues. Percussionists are among the most versatile of musicians. Drums, sticks, oil drums, xylophones, marimbas are only among some of the "instruments" found in use for these musicians.

The other interesting aspect of percussion is that almost anything is fair game for becoming an "instrument." It's a interestingly hard-to-pin-down genre of music that gets less attention than it should.

I wonder if JVS has done a review on this young lady's works. I enjoyed her first recording greatly. It seems that she's already on her 4th recording. Her first recording was interesting for the fact that separate tracks were done as far afield as NYC, Tokyo, and Nashville. If I had not seen this review, I would not investigated the fact that she is already on her 4th album:

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Her Bach marimba recording is in my "consider for review" pile. Alas, there are so many recordings in my pile. Before I even think about reviewing it, I project:
Mahler No. 5
Mahler No. 3 Ivan Fischer
The latest Ives from Seattle Symphony
Mahler Song Cycles with Alice Coote
Berg Three Pieces for Orchestra SFS digital only release

What will happen six weeks from now is as yet unknown. More recordings come my way all the time, each with its own temptations. In addition, I frequently check to see which new recordings are available in hi-rez, because I often give those priority. That wasn't the case with my recent review of Warner's Piazzolla compilation, but it was so good that I didn't care.

Sometimes, as I stare at the piles of discs and the USB sticks filled with hi-rez downloads, all I can hear in my head is a lament from Finian's Rainbow that I heard as a child, the one that goes, "When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near." Things may have changed for me in the girl/boy department, but the message still applies to music. Lord only knows what would happen if I also reviewed jazz. Thankfully, with "you can't get much better than Fred Kaplan" handling that department, I can at least narrow my focus a bit.

defgibbon's picture

I love Kuniko's Counterpoint album of pieces by Reich. Superb sounding as well. And please Jason, keep up the great work!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

That one, too, was in the piles for awhile. I know everyone says that the recording industry is dying, but it sure doesn't look like it when envelopes and boxes keep arriving on my doorstep.

I expect everyone has seen the news that Sony is once again pressing LPs. Amazing times we live in.

ednazarko's picture

I'm a huge fan of switching one composition target for another, transposition - I used to play Bach two part inventions with a friend on trombone, cello concertos on my trombone, and double bass concertos on tuba. I was SO EXCITED about Kumiko's album. The second it showed up in my tracking I bought it.

Not at all saying it's not great to listen to, even fun to listen to. But it's nice to listen to. Have listened end to end twice, and sampling several tracks here and there many times, and it always is nice listening, but... nice. She's an amazing, maybe freaky, talent. But the result is ... OK nice to listen to. Not even close to bad, but just nice. Nothing striking, astonishing, breathtaking. Every couple weeks I find something like that.

Will be interested to see your response. I'm ready to hear that I missed some aspect.

Bluejimbop's picture

Nuance and who's replying what to whom can sometimes be lost in these threads.
To be clear, my initial comment in this thread was an attempt to sarcastically lament the fact that oftentimes, Jason suffers criticism for merely writing in the identity of the person he is.
You go ahead on, Jason.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I really appreciate your clarification. Yes, it does get crazy on forums when you attempt to reply to a specific message, and the comment appears in an unintended place, with unintended implications and consequences.


michaelhigh's picture

the connection between sexuality (gay, straight or whatever) and percussion music... maybe I'm missing something.

dalethorn's picture

It's all good.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

you might read the review again to understand the context of the reference.

ednazarko's picture

I've got a couple things by them and every one of them sounds like there are 40 musicians playing, and I'm always getting my head jerked around back and forth, front to back (on the 5.1 recordings.) I took a break from finding and downloading the album in question to weigh in.

jporter's picture

I came across this really cool piece while looking into the group after reading your review. Thanks for another cool group to follow...Cheers!