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Music Review: The University of Houston Percussion Ensemble – Not Here, But There

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I’m a sucker for percussion ensembles. They’re classical, jazz, and avant garde all rolled into one. More often than not, they’re experimental, and eager to push the envelope. Mainstream examples include such productions as Stomp and Blue Man Group, but trust me, there’s way more to percussion ensembles than push brooms and painted men banging on tubes. That being said, when the University of Houston Percussion Ensemble released Not Here, But There, an album that has been in the works for some time now, I jumped at the chance to hear it.

The album opens with a bit of a bang – “Sprint” is a fun and energetic piece that features a strong marimba section, accented with the use of tambourine, snare, and bass drum, among others. It sets the tone for the rest of the work.

The title track, “Not Here, But There” is an incredibly dramatic piece. Starting off soft and almost haunting, it methodically gains energy and increasingly complex instrumentation as the song progresses. As with all songs on the album, marimba forms the backbone of this arrangement. Above that, use of wood blocks, chimes, and timpani provide powerful accompaniment and tone. A sequence of powerful crescendos and decrescendos solidified my opinion of the song.

Later, Not Here, But There gains some levity with “Circus Plenus Clamor Ingens Ianuae Tensae,” a lighthearted piece with amusing bits of technique sprinkled throughout. “Hohner,” a tribute to percussionist Robert Hohner, takes a completely different direction. It opens in pure chaos – cymbals, noisemakers, and gongs explode for a good twenty
five seconds and then disappear, only to forcefully reappear again and again. Over the course of the song (weighing in at over 14 minutes), the tones varies drastically, from the chaotic beginning, to a portion at 4:03 that was described to me by one of the members of the ensemble as “the pirate part,” to a section of interacting timpani and marimba that alternates between sounding joyous and frantic.

This album is an impressive one. The scope of it can’t quite be understood until you’ve listened to the album several times. Many of the songs feel as though they’re albums in and over themselves, partially due to their length (the eight songs are a collective 1.2 hours long), and partially due to the musical variety contained in each. The works were all written by different composers, and all have decidedly different tones, but they manage to come together here to form a wonderful collection.

I recommend checking out Not Here, But There whether you already enjoy percussion ensembles or you’re not familiar with the genre and want to try it out. This will have you coming back for another listen time and time again.

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