Drums and Metals
Cut / CUT003
Jason Kahn /percussion
Ambiances Magnetiques / AM080CD
Mirko Sabatini /percussion)
Solo percussion records have long been considered the very apotheosis of masturbatory, self-congratulatoiry nonsense which musicians sometimes go in for rather too much for most listeners’ linkings. We will happily, unquestioningly buy solo albums by pianists, guitarists, even saxophonists, but what can a drummer do for an hour, alone, except show off their chops? Needless to say, such talk is terribly unfair, and percussion has come on a long way, at least in avant circles.
Take Mike Sabatini, who plays not only drums but also “motors, plates, springs [and] rubber bands”. These additions, plus liberal application of a bow, give him access to the world of sustained sounds from which conventional drummers are largely excluded. Yet this is no lazy drone workout, and Sabatini gets serious about percussion, too, playing in a scattershot style with what sound like two ro three pulses layered together, between which he skips rather gracefully.
As one might expect, there’s much here to remind the listener of Eddie Prevost, but that influence (if such it was) isn’t overpowering. Sabatini is somehow a brasher player who uses big sonic gestures to get where he wants to go, but there’s plenty of space in his sound for some lovely subtleties too. This is music of assured technical poise, perhaps a little too much so for some listeners, but it’s exciting stuff too, and packing eighteen tracks into forty-six minutes means that nothing outstays its welcome.
Jason Kahn has also turned in a rather short album — something we’re very much in favour of here, what with so many labels choosing to spoil half an hour’s worth of good music with another half hour of dull padding — but these forty minutes pack a very different kind of punch. Where Sabatini is clearly coming from the free jazz end of the improv spectrum, Kahn here sounds like a classic minimalist, playing with discipline rather than verve.
The music here seems most interested in exploring apparently simple pulsations, mostly at a fast tempo, utilising a more or less restricted range of timbres. Kahn does play very evenly, but whereas these tracks might be dull as electronic music they come sparlkling to life as the unavoidable variations in sound and phrasing emerge. Like a Mondrian painting seen in the flesh, one isn’t impressed by the perfections so much as the irregularities, the rich variety rather than the uniform gloss. That makes this music enormously appealing, despite its simple content; track six, played only on hi-hat cymbals, draws a shifting, whirling palette of colours from the drummer’s emanuensis, calling to mind, of all people, the mighty Max Roach.
Brave things to release, then, solo percussion albums. Few people like them enough to seek them out specifically, and often they’re seen as a musician’s calling-card and little more. Both of these present releases, however, are full of intelligence and altogether devoid of the nightmarish riffing which so often characterises the drum solo. One suspects they won’t sell too many of these,but those who pick them up will be glad they did. Richard Cochrane