Bill Brennan – Kaleidoscope: Music for Mallet Instruments
Bill Brennan; Rob Power; Étienne Gendron
Centrediscs CMCCD 30822 (centrediscs.ca)
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Canadian percussionist, pianist and composer Bill Brennan has racked up an impressive 100 album credits to date. Kaleidoscope, however, is the first album featuring his keyboard percussion compositions. While Brennan’s career has focused on contemporary concert music and jazz genres, he has also long immersed himself in the music of other cultures. He gratefully acknowledges the deep influences of the music of Ghana, Brazil, Indonesia and India in his liner notes. Those international music influences are on display throughout the album.
For 20 years a core musician with Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, Brennan’s Shadows and Istana were originally scored for its eight-piece [gamelan] degung – though they get an instrumental makeover here. Yes, Istana and Shadows are cast in the five-tone gapped scale of the West Javanese degung mode. But the use of vibes, tam-tams, finger cymbals, and especially the glistening tones of the glass marimba in these effective arrangements give the music a gently shimmering effect, as though heard through a permeable cultural gauze.
Brazilian influences are evident in several works. Brennan describes Belo Horizonte as a musical representation of a morning stroll in a park in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, enlivened with the sounds of breezes, bamboo, chirping birds and chattering monkeys. Scored for two vibes and marimbas, Brennan skillfully evokes that soundscape by layering syncopated Brazilian bell patterns, making judicious key changes, and shifting harmonies, textures and dynamics.
Then there are the appealing Nostalgie and Vinyl Café Waltz, which lean toward the composer’s gentler, tonally unambiguous, melancholy side. I feel others will also pick up on the tinge of East Coast saudade in several sections. And that’s a good thing.