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Reviews: Precipice: Modern Marimba - Bartlett

Reviews: 1

Review by Beagle April 3, 2007 (12 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
THE MUSICIAN
I enjoyed a brief but pleasant exchange with one of the composers here, Dr Greg Wilder, and I quote: “Enjoy the disc – Nathaniel is absolutely a first-rate musician!”.

Perhaps it’s the challenge of the instrument itself, but I have never encountered a second- or third-rate mallet artist. In the sentimental bilge waters of my soul, I remain a fan of everything Lionel Hampton ever vibed – and I confess a schoolboy ‘crush’ on Eveline Glennie. Bartlett casts that same old magic spell on me, only with fresh new music, and with the added challenge (wasn’t it difficult enough already?) of synching with electronic sources. Perhaps I am just too impressed by anyone who can play like Ashkenazy and his 10 fingers, using only 4 mallets.

THE SOUND
I only ever knew Lionel Hampton from cheap LPs and tapes on cheap players – but thanks to the magic of SACD™, this disc is a ‘being there’ experience – like listening to Ulysses Crockett on vibes while drinking underage in Haight Levels Jazz, – or sitting across the table from my old friend Saïd in the Sunflower Café while he astonished me with his santu, the Iranian equivalent of hammered dulcimer. Nathaniel Bartlett’s instrument is a “Bösendorfer” of an marimba: a 5-octave Malletech Imperial Grand, which appears on the cover art to be in excess of 3m /10 ft. in length (unless Bartlett is a really really short guy). And it fills the virtual room with its vast repertoire of sounds…. With a single monster-instrument stretched across the soundstage, is there a risk of… monotony? No (not even in the hypnotic opening piece by Philip Glass). Could a recording of marimba, xylophone or vibraphone be too resonant, too vibrant? Could chocolate be too chocolaty? There are waveforms on this disc which will resonate with places in your head which you didn’t know you had. In brief, this is ear-candy par excellence.

Permit me a bit of cheap philosophy: Music exists somewhere between physical sensation and intellectual titillation. There is plenty of both on this unique disc. Just when the intellect is saying, “That’s really nifty…” – a primal physical event happens which leaves the entire body saying “Oh wow!”. Yes, wow with at least one exclamation point. I am thinking of several moments in Greg Wilder’s ‘Interlude’; if you think all interludes are tranquil pauses, then you will be surprised (pleasantly). I listen in 2-channel (plus ambient Hafler), but the booklet notes emphasise that the computer portion is "5.1" – so I suspect that in multichannel these sounds swarm around the listener.

THE MUSIC
A title ending in “and computer-generated sounds” can raise an eyebrow and send a chill through the cardiovascular system. Fear not, Bartlett has chosen his composers well, and he invites you to a happy marriage of manual and digital sound. The Glass and Reich pieces are ‘reincarnated’ late-20th century music, but if you know Glass and Reich you will know that it is listenable 20th century. The other pieces are – oh my gosh! – 21st century stuff! In case you were wondering what it would sound like, the omens are good.

I like almost everything about this disc, especially the Wilder and Reich pieces, and expect to listen to it a great deal for a long while. It sits well on either the classical or the jazz shelf. My only complaint is that the pieces are short and there are not more of them. If you are tempted to get this disc, don’t delay; my first choice of distributor failed to deliver and I had to look elsewhere.

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