Colin Currie Group / Synergy Vocals

Steve Reich: Drumming

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Steve Reich's Drumming, inspired by musical studies in Ghana and on the Indonesian island of Bali, was composed in 1970 and 1971 and has remained one of the touchstones of minimalism's first wave. The work merged polyrhythms and the rhythmic cycle idea with the phase shifting of Reich's early works, painting the whole thing onto a large canvas with four interlocking sections of indeterminate length. The work is instantly appealing and is often performed by percussion ensembles. It has been recorded a number of times, beginning with a realization at Town Hall in New York involving Reich himself, in 1971. What has caused this version by the Colin Currie Group to jump onto classical sales charts? You get several features here that are sometimes imperfectly developed on earlier versions. First is the comparative brevity of the performance, which clocks in at just over 55 minutes (the work contains optional repeats). This is shorter than the 1971 Reich recording, but it's worth noting that it's very close to the length of the 1987 version by Steve Reich and Musicians, released on Nonesuch, and it seems to find the right balance between the sections of different instrumentation. Second, the engineering here is extraordinary, all the more so because the album is on the performers' own label. It is not technically an audiophile album, but the transparency and dynamic range are top-notch. Sample the magical entrance of the three marimbas as the bongo drummers fade out at the beginning of Part II. Finally, these musicians have long familiarity with Reich and with this work, and it shows: they are comfortable in the music's framework, in its skin. Highly recommended.

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