No doubt the title Drums 'n' Chant (or any title containing "'n'") will put some listeners off. And it's no surprise to learn that Martin Grubinger, confidently proclaimed "the world's finest percussionist" in the notes by Simon Bischoff (in German and English) encountered resistance from Father Rhabanus, a monk at the Münsterschwarzach Abbey, when he proposed this project. But the monk eventually came around, and even the skeptical listener should give this unusual project a try. As Bischoff points out, what's done here does no more violence to Gregorian chant than do the various recordings that pick and choose among chants regardless of liturgy in search of some nebulous meditation effect. This said, what's presented here is, in contemporary lingo, a mashup. The album is based on the chant recordings made in the 1980s by the abbey's Schola Cantorum choir for the Archiv label. It's not made very clear why new chant recordings couldn't have been made; it's hard to imagine that the monks might have been holding out for a bigger share of the residuals. At any rate, Grubinger and his collaborators have composed original percussion tracks to accompany each chant. Except for the Communion chant, track 9, accompanied by Grubinger on the sixxen, a set of metal plates first used in gamelan-like music by Iannis Xenakis, each piece involves an ensemble of percussion instruments. This is interesting in itself, and each work does seem to support the chant on which it is based; the chant is not a cantus firmus in the Renaissance manner but the kernel of the composition. A third ingredient in many of the pieces is Sufi chant from Turkey, apparently an element of interest to Grubinger because his wife is Turkish. Again, this could have turned into mere blank pastiche, but the counterpoint between the two kinds of chant is carefully done. The entire project gets points for sheer originality, and also for engineering dexterity in integrating 25-year-old material with new tracks. A final point of interest is that Grubinger's material, although it was perhaps suggested by the treatment of preexisting material in the techno genre, makes very little use of electronics; one wonders about the reactions of techno followers to this "acoustic techno."
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim