Glenn Kotche

Mobile

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Mobile, percussionist Glenn Kotche's third solo offering, is his first for Nonesuch. Being a member of Wilco made scoring a record deal with his band's prestigious label a bit easier to come by, perhaps, but it's well-deserved nonetheless. Kotche has played on over 70 recordings and performed in a variety settings over the past decade. He's a member of Loose Fur with Wilco bandmate Jeff Tweedy and Jim O'Rourke, and half of On Fillmore with bassist Darin Gray. Mobile showcases him playing solo on different percussion instruments including vibraphone, marimba, cembalo, piano, mbira, kit drums, and more. Rock (and Wilco) fans may blanch at the thought of someone making a solo percussion record, but that's their problem. Mobile is a fascinating and challenging recording of composed strategy pieces by a master musician. The only work not entirely composed by Kotche here is the opener, "Clapping Music Variations," based on "Clapping Music" by Steve Reich from 1972. While using the theme of the original as his first couple of phrases, he identifies his source and its character. But where that music goes is someplace altogether different. Pitches, modes, meter; all are implemented and built upon in layers with various percussion instruments including cymbals, vibes, marimbas, and tom toms. Each occupies a certain place in the work, while the pulse is static. The title track is in three parts based on three interlocking kalimba melodies, written during the Ghost Is Born sessions. Kalimba is only one of the instruments used here, as voices and contexts are fleshed out and one can hear the mode outlined in part three throughout the record. Distortion and studio techniques are used on various instruments creating an out-of-time-and-space-feel throughout the entire thing, through rhythm defined and employed by the use of negative space (the spaces between rhythmic statements) and monkey chant are sought out and used exhaustively here. Kotche's liner notes are dense but thoroughly instructive as a road map for how to listen to the music on Mobile. The album as a whole is completely and wonderfully disorienting on sensory and emotional levels, yet completely accessible as music. While Kotche uses the three aspects of "Mobile" as his thematic sketch for this recording, it's actually "Monkey Chant for Solo Drum Kit," that's the most compelling and challenging thing here. According to his notes, it's the retelling -- in monkey chant drumming -- of the monkey battle of the epic Hindu Ramayana tale. And each instrument used in the song embodies a Hindu god or goddess, while the monkey army is the drum kit itself. Sticks on various drumheads, strings on the bottom of the snare -- both large and small clusters -- are used differently; the hi hat and other instruments denote the various gods' voices and personas. At over 11-minutes-in-length, it becomes the turnstile in the center of the record that makes everything else revolve for the listener. The halves are basically divided by this piece, and what comes after it is very different than what came before. In all, this is a compelling, challenging, and very enjoyable recording that offers a percussion-as-melodic-language approach to hearing lyrically oriented pop music. And while it is obviously a showcase for Kotche's admirable skills as a drummer, more importantly it reveals his considerable abilities as a composer, too.

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