Patricia Brennan makes delicate music for mallets | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Patricia Brennan makes delicate music for mallets


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When used in the improvisatory style pioneered by performers such as Lionel Hampton, the vibraphone is traditionally a clanging, percussive, hard-charging instrument. The marimba is arguably best known for providing the hip-shaking backbone for many traditional Latin musics. New York composer Patricia Brennan takes both instruments in more delicate and less sweaty directions. Her debut album, Maquishti (Valley of Search), is a solo tour de force in which she uses unusual techniques to create gossamer flutters and cascades of crystal tones. Less percussive charge than ambient meditation, the music invites you to lean back and float into its shimmer, and it works nicely as a pleasant background for work and/or a nap. Thankfully the album also rewards closer listening, as songs coalesce out of the improvised bliss. The first single, “Sonnet,” is almost six minutes of brief bursts of sound that wander around spacious pauses, alternating stochastic touches with elegant scales. “Solar” makes an explicit connection between Brennan’s approach and electronica: she adds effects to make each mallet-fall bend and doppler, creating smears of sound and pitch from the vibraphone’s usually distinct notes. “Magic Square” works up a bit more speed, with figures that resolve into patterns of repeated rhythms that suggest a more laid-back version of the minimalist Midori Takada masterpiece Through the Looking Glass. Part of the joy of Maquishti is its oddity; in the computer age, almost no sounds feel strange in and of themselves, but there’s something wonderful about hearing instruments you thought you knew turned to such counterintuitive but lovely purposes.   v

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