Sandbox Percussion Have the Reich Stuff

Witness four percussionists in hypnotic exchanges

New music champion Bonnie Wright’s Fresh Sound concert series continued with an electrifying performance of contemporary classical drum music by the Sandbox Percussion quartet, featuring Ian Rosenbaum, Jonny Allen, Victor Caccese and Terry Sweeney. They played just about anything that can be struck with a stick and more.

Allen strode to the front of the stage alone, tapping a wooden slab with a mallet, soon joined by his compatriots as each explored the short transients in unison and contrast like an obsessive-compulsive Morse code choir. It was “Music for Pieces of Wood" by legendary minimalist composer Steve Reich, whose distinctive musical personality served as a guiding force throughout the evening.

Next, each member of the quartet surrounded a lone vibraphone with additional percussive accoutrements to perform Allen’s “Sonata.” It was a riveting moment as the melody passed from one member to another in mesmerizing fashion.

The highlight moment for me came on the medley of Caccese’s “Chatter,” which segued into “What the Hell,” by Jason Treuting. “Chatter” began with the sound of drumsticks clicking in canon before breaking into two groups -- Rosenbaum and Sweeney at a dilapidated upright piano and Allen and Caccese beating both sides of a bass drum. All four read different parts of John Cage’s “45 Minutes for a Speaker” while playing, which gave off a dizzying sensation of auditory hallucination. “What the Hell?” represented freedom and chance through the audience participation missive to shake and rattle car keys and chair surfaces layered against the hypnotic rhythms from the performers.

The evening concluded with a stunning reading of another Reich masterpiece, “Drumming Part One,” written in 1971 after a trip to Africa. This piece, performed on four pairs of tuned bongos, utilized Reich’s “phasing” principle, where a repeated pattern is played in unison until a second player begins to vary the tempo and the performers become “out-of-phase” with one another. How this tension builds and gets resolved is the key, and when the Sandbox Percussion group arrived at this juncture, the results were ecstatic.

Another fascinating evening of Fresh Sound.

 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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