Lou Harrison

Lou Harrison: Labrynth

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Lou Harrison's early percussion works form part of the bedrock strata of standard percussion ensemble literature, and their recorded history stretches back into the 1940s, although hitherto parceled out singly among collections of percussion music or included along with some of Harrison's later efforts. Jan Williams was once a member of the Paul Price Percussion Ensemble, a pioneering group that played many of these pieces for decades as a matter of routine; as a result this Hat Hut recording, Labrynth, by Williams' current group Maelström Percussion Ensemble, may be regarded as authoritative.

Labrynth contains "all of Harrison's extant scores from 1938-1942 for percussion alone without additional or solo instruments." The release of this collection represents the realization of a dream that Williams' has cherished for 40 years, and given his exalted pedigree, one can imagine that all of this music here is played expertly and with great care. Perhaps too much care; some of the swing and snappiness noticeable in other recordings of this repertoire is lacking here. But all of these pieces are played with absolute precision by the Maelström Percussion Ensemble.

If one is interested in the variety of sound among percussion instruments, there is no recording better than this -- the representation of the instrumental textures achieved by the Maelström Percussion Ensemble is second to none. Some pieces, such as the Fugue for Percussion (1941), are so polyrhythmically engaged that at one time it was thought that no one could play them. In these works Williams and his group are without peer; fanciers of industrial music will take great interest in the way that the Fugue unfolds. The packaging to this limited edition release is about as minimal as it gets -- a tri-fold sleeve with a diagonal slot cut into the cardboard to hold the disc. A listing of the instruments in use would have been helpful -- crucial information in regard to percussion music, where standards of ensemble makeup are nonexistent. These appears to be the first ever recordings of Bomba and Labrynth No. 2, and overall Labrynth cannot be recommended highly enough to those who have even a casual interest in Lou Harrison's percussion music.

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