Ethos Percussion Group
Break It Down by Robert Levin
These Trees That Speak by Susie Ibarra
The Guiros Talk by Dafnis Prieto
Ziggurat (interior) by John Hollenbeck
performed by Eric Phinney, Yousif Sheronick, David Shively, and Trey Files
The Ethos Percussion Group’s release Building is a well-performed, attractive, and engaging collection of percussion music. The four musicians display ensemble virtuosity throughout each piece and launch the CD with the track Break it Down by Robert Levin. In this 2001 work, the four percussionists work together to sound as one drummer grooving through different styles. Upon casual listening, the piece comes across as a solo drumset performance. Deeper listening reveals a terse rhythmic interplay that could only be done my some robotic superhuman drummer. Or, as it so happens, by the Ethos Percussion Group.
These Trees That Speak by Susie Ibarra adds a haunting and simple pre-recorded track of ambient sound to the quartet. The opening heartbeat provides a motivating background to an otherwise meditative vibraphone solo. The heartbeat gives way to earthy deep drumming that just grooves all day long (okay, the piece is only 11 minutes, but I could listen to it all day). The second half of the composition brings back the mellowness of the opening over a backdrop of rain. The work is natural and exudes contemplation and serenity.
The Guiros Talk is a two movement piece, the first being just for guiros. It is, to borrow from Shakespeare, awesome. The dialog of guiros is sensitive and fresh to the ears. I am a fan of the “do more with less” approach to percussion that this movement hits the nail on the head. Or the guiro on the side. The second movement, “Claveteando,” is a quirky romp through Cuban and Latin drumming influence. The piece grooves, definitely it does, but the groove is constantly growing and changing. In contrast to the Levin work, in which Ethos sounded like one superdrummer, “Claveteando” makes them sound like one impressive quartet.
The last work, Ziggurat (Interior), is the least concrete and groovy of the four works. What you get instead is an avalanche of mystery sounds (oh how the mind wanders when trying to determine how they are making those sounds) interjected with a boomwhacker obbligato. The work has a tense energy to it, sounding as if the ziggurat is being raised into position before your eyes. The composition is full of sonic trajectory and Ethos supports this trajectory every step of the way. When the piece gave way to rapid rolls on tiny tinny bells, I just sat and thought “what on EARTH is going on here?” But I thought it in a good way. Hollenbeck’s work is hypnotic in its mysterious quirkiness and Ethos commands your attention at every moment.