As a teenager, percussionist and composer Payton MacDonald became fascinated with the tabla, an Indian instrument consisting of two drums, a smaller one with a wooden frame, and a larger one with a metal or ceramic frame. His interest continued through his graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music, and eventually led him to study with tabla master Pandit Sharda Sahai. He has also worked extensively with Canadian tabla player Shawn Mativetsky, who performs six of MacDonald's works on this CD. Three are solos and three are concertos for tabla and percussion quartet. The concertos are placed before the solos, but the listener new to the instrument may want to listen to the solos first to become familiar with the tabla's versatility.
The tabla is able to produce a variety of pitches and timbres and requires a level of skill comparable to that required for mastery of a western orchestral instrument. Although the subtleties of which it's capable may not be fully evident to ears primarily accustomed to Western music, it's clearly an appealing and expressive instrument requiring a high level of virtuosity. MacDonald's concerti are wonderfully colorful, full of shimmering, glistening sonorities with which the tabla engages in a dance that sounds both mystical and earthy. Mativetsky and the William Paterson University Percussion Ensemble play with easy grace and throbbing vitality. The CD should be of strong interest to fans of percussion, and of creative syntheses of Western and world musics that compromise the integrity of neither.