Album Remarks & Appraisals:
'Starling' is a striking and colorful CD of chamber music by Billy Martin, the dynamic percussionist from one of the world's most popular instrumental bands, Medeski Martin and Wood. Performed and recorded originally on a wide variety of African thumb pianos, these delightful pieces have been meticulously transcribed, arranged and orchestrated by Anthony Coleman for string quartet and chamber orchestra.
Liner Note Authors: Anthony Coleman & Selfhaters; Billy Martin .
Recording information: Spin Studio; Thalia Theater, Symphony Space, New York, NY.
Ensemble: Whirligig Percussionists.
Photographer: Danny Clinch.
Arranger: Anthony Coleman & Selfhaters.
Even those who know Billy Martin as more than the drummer for Medeski, Martin & Wood should be surprised hearing him as a composer of new music based on chamber precepts, 21st century modern ideas, and sounds removed from what might be expected -- perhaps leading a percussion conclave. The two extended suites "Starlings" and "Metamorphosis" comprise orchestrated and expanded concepts from music Martin originally recorded for mbira on the 1991 Amulet label recording Black Elk Speaks. Anthony Coleman conducts groups ranging from a standard string quartet to a tentet of brass, woodwinds, and strings. Martin's concept of a detailed charted and constructed framework with room inside for improvisation allows the music to breathe organically. It expands and contracts at will, utilizing layering and counterpoint, and attains large sonic textures that are far from conventional and safe, requiring deep listening. The Black Elk Orchestra plays "Starlings 1" through "Starlings 5" and "Metamorphosis 1" through "Metamorphosis 3." The former suite is an evocative deconstruction of assimilated bird calls, chirps, and whistles ranging in tone and stance from Steve Reich or Philip Glass minimalism to calmer or spatial chatty phrases (in part described as "Mancini bluesiness") and circus-like clarion calls. Bursting shards of lights flashing on and off with high-octave horns and dark-shaded strings, a short quote from "O, Canada," and stark unison dialects identify the accurately titled baroque-inspired "Metamorphosis." The Sirius String Quartet take "Soul Map" through an around-the-house plucked and bowed, slightly dense tradeoff, while a dark percussive gamelan-type modulation gives way to a long-toned takeover on "Strangulation." The Whirligig Percussion Ensemble with Martin conducting offer another Indonesian-flavored piece, "Pelagos," in unhurried fashion, while "Stridulation for the Good Luck Feast" is parsed in opaque mad layers of clicking three-note Spanish woodblock sounds. Martin's solo piece "Exquisite Machine" revisits his love of the thumb piano via an Asiatic mass of multiphonics in a home recording that sounds overdubbed, but may not be. This is a remarkable project and one worth seeking, an effort that sets Billy Martin far apart from mere jazz-funk fusion drumming and into the realm of compositional genius. ~ Michael G. Nastos