Patricia Brennan - Maquishti Music Album Reviews

Patricia Brennan - Maquishti Music Album Reviews
Challenging but never chaotic, contemplative yet too rigorous to be mistaken for ambient music, the experimental vibraphonist’s solo debut carves out its own place in contemporary music.

The vibraphone is an easy instrument to ignore. Its placid chimes lend themselves to Christmas standards, mall music, and corporate jingles; the vibes’ place in jazz is often traced back to 1930, when NBC hired percussionist Lionel Hampton to play the network’s sound mark on them. Since then, generations of players have coaxed exquisite music from the vibraphone, yet too often the vibes are tacked onto gigantic ensembles, like a maraschino cherry on top of an already sickly-sweet dessert.
Patricia Brennan is no stranger to her instrument—one of the largest and most unwieldy around—feeling small on a crowded bandstand. She’s a member of several excellent big bands and jazz orchestras, yet Brennan shines brighter in small settings, where she can show off her skill as an improviser. In a recent profile in The Wire, the Veracruz-born artist opened up about how, performing in symphony orchestras in her native Mexico as a teenager, she felt as though she didn’t have enough parts to play. “There were moments where I just didn’t really feel like a real musician,” she said. Sparse and spontaneous, her solo debut, Maquishti, features Brennan alone on the vibes and their musical cousin, the marimba: More than a focused exhibition of pitched percussion, the result is full of avant-garde possibility.

Part of the album’s appeal is wrapped in its narrow toolkit. Maquishti is not the first solo outing by a vibraphonist, but Brennan actually performs alone—which is surprisingly rare. Masters of the instrument, including Bobby Hutcherson on Solo/Quartet and Gary Burton on Alone at Last, sprinkled ostensible solo affairs with collaborators or overdubs, as though tacitly acknowledging the difficulty of attracting listeners to the unadorned vibraphone. Brennan skirts these problems by using guitar pedals, and also because her approach is unceasingly modal. Never availing herself of even the hint of a blues pattern or a snatch of familiar melody, Brennan forces us to consider the sonic qualities of the instrument itself.

There’s enough variety, though, to keep things interesting. The shift from the vibes on “Solar” to the duller wood marimba on “Improvisation VI” is subtle yet accentuated by her use of four mallets of graduated size, which shows off the latter instrument’s range. The twinkling “Magic Square” illustrates the vibraphone’s versatility, alternating a piano-like contrapuntal movement with a hypnotic assertion of the main theme. And then there’s the final suite of tracks, which departs dramatically from expectation only to draw the listener back to a more traditional approach, as if it’s a port in an improvisatory storm. On “Point of No Return,” Brennan creates both clicks and glissandos by scraping binder clips against her tone bars, while “Away From Us” filters bowing through a delay pedal to forge a rock-friendly drone. When Brennan picks up her mallets again, on the swelling closer “Derrumbe De Turquesas,” they feel familiar, even comforting.

Such a courageously quiet album as Maquishti occupies a strange space in the modern musical landscape. It’s challenging but never skronky, chaotic, or abrasive, like a lot of improvised jazz can be. It’s contemplative but so compositionally oriented that it won’t likely be mistaken for ambient music. It features an instrument—the marimba—that developed its contemporary character in Mexico, Central, and South America, yet Brennan’s deployment feels far removed from these regions’ musical traditions. What she crafts on Maquishti are unprecedented sounds: warm and sleek, both modern and eternal. You could say that Brennan drags the vibraphone into the 21st century, but her record suggests that mallet-based percussion was always ripe for exploration. We just had to recognize the beauty of one of the most ungainly instruments in the room.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Patricia Brennan - Maquishti Music Album Reviews Patricia Brennan - Maquishti Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 25, 2021 Rating: 5


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