If you couldnï¿½t hit on it, it just wasnï¿½t there, there being the Lensicï¿½s stage, crammed back to front with exotic hittable gadgets from just about everywhere, lying in readiness for the Friday, Aug. 10 opening concert of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festivalï¿½s two-part World Music Percussion Festival. And I mean crammed: a generous assortment of those elegant red-and-gold hammer-it-out contraptions for the gamelan, a few gongs waiting for their J Arthur Rank movie moment, a cymbalom, a Gene Krupa-style drum set, a toy piano and a marimba and a vibraphone and temple bells and a bewildering array of deeply unfamiliar low-slung beatables.
The houselights dim. And then marches in from the back of the auditoriumï¿½clashing and banging and gonging happily away on Balinese instrumentsï¿½five guys who look like the with-it philosophy department of a ***image2***small liberal arts college, geezers included. But theyï¿½re not philosophers. Theyï¿½re tonightï¿½s performing ensemble, the Dallas-based percussion group, Dï¿½Drum. You were expecting sarongs and dreadlocks?
Move over, Herr Hegel. Tonightï¿½s lesson plan includes a half-dozen traditional percussive sets, mostly Balinese occasional music for processionals, dances, shadow plays, cremation ceremonies and the like, performed on a battery of Javanese instruments. For a Western concert hall, itï¿½s music rich and strange, but you can readily hear the relevance for many so-called minimalist works by Glass, Reich, Adams and their ilk.
Alternating with traditional material, Dï¿½Drum cuts loose with another half-dozen of their own jazz-rock-pop-Latin riffs, including an esoteric, off-the-wall arrangement of George Harrisonï¿½s ï¿½Within You Without You,ï¿½ a shifty mingling of Middle Eastern and African and Hungarian and Balinese tones intended to make your ears feel real good. Then came more kaleidoscopic sonics in a bone-rattling ï¿½Village Beside Timeï¿½ invention that opened with a jungle-toned ironic tribute to Martin Dennyï¿½s (remember him?) super-schlocky ï¿½Quiet Village,ï¿½ and then went nuts.
After the interval, a playful set of variations on Chick Coreaï¿½s ï¿½La Fiestaï¿½
ï¿½that somehow got mixed up with the Bach D minor Chaconneï¿½featured Ed Smith on vibraphone and Ron Snider on cajï¿½n (a wooden box drum). It was almost like being way, way back at San Franciscoï¿½s long-ago Black Hawk jazz club with the Dï¿½Drum boys channeling Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria.
Part 2 of the Festival arrived on Saturday, Aug. 11, this program centering on and dedicated to the memory of John Wyre, the renowned Canadian percussionist who died last fall. Angela Gabriel and Jeffrey Cornelius plus three artists from the Santa Fe Opera, Gregg Koyle, Jeffrey Milarsky and David Tolen, took the stage for the first half, performing three works by Wyre and another by his fellow Canadian, Bill Brennan. The latter contributed ï¿½Belo Horizonte,ï¿½ a mood piece for marimba and vibes, evoking a multi-layered day in that Brazilian city as it awakens, comes to samba-inspired life and puts itself to sleep.
Wyreï¿½s glistening ï¿½Moon Dance Two,ï¿½ also for vibes and marimba, opened the program with a smooth and sexy, easy-listeninï¿½ lounge-Latin beat. Then one of his final compositions and a SFCMF commission, ï¿½Quartet: Music for 16 Gongsï¿½ (2006) received its world premiere and radically, deliberately darkened the mood. Itï¿½s a transfixing work, often repetitive and hypnotic, gamelan-like at times, ultimately mysterious, that often feels like an extended, richly-textured temple dance. The persuasive performance may have helped provoke one of those typically City Different moments. A violent storm lashed the Lensic with rain, punctuated by thundery outbursts accompanying the serene gong music and it felt oddly right. We might have been at the finish of ï¿½The Waste Land,ï¿½ hearing what the thunder said: Datta Dayadhvam Damyata.
ï¿½Marubatoo,ï¿½ Wyreï¿½s 1988 work for marimbas, vibes and crotales, changed the mood yet again, this time in a compelling bluesy-ragtime, feel-good number that banished all that stormy weather. Dï¿½Drum joined the ensemble for Wyreï¿½s witty Musica de la Rana, for four gankogui (a double-belled instrument from Ghana) and hand drums. The eight percussionists, all smiles, created a hyper-hoppinï¿½ frog pond that knew all about the birth of the boogie.
To finish, Dï¿½Drum paid tribute to Wyre via ï¿½Bronze Blossoms,ï¿½ a serious solo work for bells that the composer recorded in 1994, never intending it for the concert hall. Using Wyreï¿½s CD performance as a sort of ground bass, Dï¿½Drum superimposed a complex percussive obbligato composed by Ed Smith that touchingly complemented the original work. Successfully? Perhaps not, if you value the extensive sounds of silence that, John Cage-ily, Wyre employs to enhance the rich timbre of his bells. But as homage to the composer, it clicked.