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Glenn Kotche - Mobile

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Artist: Glenn Kotche

Album: Mobile

Label: Nonesuch

Review date: May. 2, 2006

Fortune has smiled upon percussionist Glenn Kotche. His famous rock band has gotten to that exalted level of success where the record label gives the drummer a solo album. But this isn’t just any drummer, nor is Nonesuch any old label. Kotche is a skilled improviser, electro-acoustic sound architect, and rock musician who has already recorded two solo albums for Locust and Quakebasket, and Nonesuch already has a history of involvement with two of his inspirations – American minimalist composition and Balinese gamelan performance. That all gives Mobile a certain resonance beyond that of the instruments its creator plays, and makes it likely that you’ll play it more than an Alan White album, but maybe not as much as an Art Blakey one.

“Clapping Music Variations” opens the album with a tribute to Steve Reich that also introduces Kotche’s central compositional concept – negative space. He uses the resting places in his rhythms as spaces to expand simple ideas into complex compositions. He also transposes parts from one instrument to another; for example, a piece of music originally played by several people clapping their hands is now played by one man with a fair-sized collection of drums, gongs and vibes. The resulting gamelan-like piece reminds one of Reich’s debts to musics of other cultures, and also provides a pithy introduction to the album’s soundworld.

Next up is the three-part title tune, which is based on the thumb piano melodies Kotche worked up in his hotel room during the downtime of some Wilco recording sessions. (A-ha! Another representation of negative space.) Transferred to electronic and acoustic mallet sounds, not to mention some stomping heavy drums, Kotche births a new genre – arena gamelan! Two tracks later, he renders the genre’s most famous piece, the “Monkey Chant,” for drum kit. I doubt it’ll make you sell your Nonesuch Explorer Series volumes, but if you’re the sort to luxuriate in hi-fi recorded sound, this is your speaker audition track.

Elsewhere, the album is more frankly electronic sounding; “Projections of (What) Might…” alternates and overlays afro-beat grooves so that they sound like slowed-down jungle. (Say, whatever happened to jungle? Another negative space?) And “Individual Trains” is a laptop jockey’s idea of a drum solo, with a rich spray of digitally-stretched and distorted sounds flickering past each other like opposing data streams, or maybe waterfalls and boulders racing each other to the bottom after a canyon cloudburst.

By Bill Meyer

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