Master of Mallets

Nordeson's solo percussion performance went off with a bang at Bread & Salt

An evening of solo percussion might represent a challenge to some listeners, but Swedish transplant Kjell Nordeson, who is a master of all instruments that can be struck with sticks or mallets, rewarded that challenge with 60 minutes of hypnotic virtuosity on May 1.

At Bread & Salt, the multi-arts venue in Logan Heights, Nordeson presented Walking With Mirabeau, a dynamic program of solo percussion that featured both written and improvised material, to the rapt audience that gathered for Bonnie Wright's Fresh Sound concert series.

Nordeson began with four green mallets at the vibraphone, toggling tremolos between its keys and a large cowbell, blending those disparate textures as if they were a unified instrument. Ranging from pianissimo passages to clanging chords, his mastery of dynamics was often difficult to comprehend. Shedding two mallets, Nordeson lit off on an astonishing improvised solo of shimmering velocity. Suddenly, he switched to sticks and began an improvised segue into "Rebounds B" by Iannis Xenakis, a tour de force that created melodic structure from polyrhythmic velocity on conga, bongos, floor toms and graduated slats of wood. It was both regally logical and surgically brutal, each stroke and roll keying a mesmerizing experience.

Nordeson utilized snippets of prerecorded material -- all of which featured him on drums or vibraphone -- as connective tissue between one theme and the next, crouching behind the vibraphone with four blue mallets as the first receded into the performance space of the converted industrial warehouse before standing to churn the pulsing waves of opaque harmonies that characterize "Omar II" by Franco Donatoni. At one point, Nordeson activated the rotary motor on the instrument and, using four soft white mallets, dug into the baroque world of J.S. Bach's "Prelude in Eb Minor." Another prerecorded piece signaled a shift to an improvised solo at the drum kit, where he unleashed a series of controlled explosions with the fury of cherry bombs in a pressure cooker.

The juxtaposition of diametrically opposed extremes was a constant theme throughout the show -- never more dramatic than the screeching free-jazz of orgiastic multiphonics and the unlikely moment when Nordeson picked up an acoustic guitar and began softly crooning "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

It was a supremely surreal moment in an evening full of them and one of the finest concerts I've seen in quite some time.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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