Drumtalker CD Reviews

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Toronto’s internationally renowned percussion ensemble Nexus has been performing for over thirty years, and their newest CD is another outstanding recording among some twenty others produced since the 1970s.

The title, “Drumtalker”, is taken from the second movement of the first piece, The Invisible Proverb by Russell Hartenberger. This delightful story from West Africa tells us about a boy who discovers the power of music as he sits alone beside a lake, far from his village. Percussion Sonata No. 2 by Peter Schickele (a.k.a. P.D.Q. Bach) includes an ethereal pastorale in which the keys of the vibraphone are played with a bass bow against a background of wind chimes. The final piece, Four Medleys, arranged by Bob Becker, takes us on a jolly romp through a number of well-known popular songs from the 1920s and 30s such as Bye Bye Blackbird and When You’re Smilin’.

Everything about this CD is wonderful: the performing is technically impeccable and musically sensitive, and the diversity of the three pieces “ based on African, Western art and Ragtime models respectively “ provides a fascinating combination which showcases Nexus’ versatility and high level of comfort in disparate styles. As well, the CD design (by Bonnie Schechter) displays great artistry, and the liner notes are informative “ adding greatly to the listening experience. It is very uplifting to hear music from a “serious” contemporary ensemble that exudes such flair and fun! Highly recommended.

ANNETTE SANGER for Whole Note “ February 2004

After three decades Nexus remains one of the great percussion groups in the world. They continue their legacy of excellence with their newest release. The first work, by Russell Hartenberger, is a lush, groovy exploration of African drumming, African horn ensembles, and a melody by Takemitsu. The last element seems rather inexplicable, but the composer manages to blend it in seamlessly. What could be a derivative collage is rather sensitive and smart, no doubt because of Hartenberger’s expertise as a performer of African music.

The other best parts of the program are the four Ragtime medleys arranged by Bob Becker. Becker performs as the xylophone soloist, and his musicality and rhythmic flow are stunning. I have heard hundreds of performances of these ragtime pieces, but no one else in the world approaches the phrasing and the improvising with the level of intelligence of Becker.

One outstanding attribute of this group is their ability to breathe together. These five musicians possess a deep sense of groove and pulse. To rephrase an old adage: “the group that grooves together, stays together”. Another excellent release from Nexus.

PAYTON MACDONALD for American Record Guide

A new addition to my list of the top-ten CDs of all time is Nexus’ Drumtalker. Everything about this recording is outstanding, from the quality of performance to the quality of recording to the quality of programming. Selections are primarily mallet-oriented and include “The Invisible Proverb” by Russell Hartenberger, “Percussion Sonata No. 2 ˜Woodstock'” by Peter Schickele, and “Four Medleys” arranged by Bob Becker.

“The Invisible Proverb” is a four-movement work incorporating such elements as talking-drum styles, atenteben flute melodies of Ghana, and West African drumming ensemble grooves on keyboard percussion instruments. Peter Schickele’s “Percussion Sonata No. 2 ˜Woodstock'” is a colorful work employing Woodstock wind chimes in four of the five parts. “Four Medleys” features ragtime pieces of the 1920s and 30s. Becker’s virtuosity and improvisational prowess on xylophone always shines through with a driving marimba ensemble backing him. Drumtalker provides the listener with simply the best in percussion ensemble performance and recording: Nexus!

LISA ROGERS for Percussive Notes “ June 2004

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