March 1998

Percussion Museum - Percussion Museum
Firebird KIJC 9207 (180 gm vinyl)
Released: 1997

by Steven R. Rochlin

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on Vinyl]Amidst the countless percussion recordings in my collection, part of me felt that the last thing I need is another one. Fortunately I had the soundness of soul to get Percussion Museum during the WCES. Why? Because this is quite possibly the best percussion performance and recording now in my humble yet extensive collection. I've been a percussionist since 1975, and the highest critical listening I do is probably that done with percussion music. My ears can discern the hardness and material used in the marimba mallet, the natural and crucial harmonics of chimes and vibraphones, the speed and attack of castanets-just to mention a few things. Also, I wonder if the tympani is really tuned right (an art in itself). Call it a possible curse more than a blessing. Yet when everything is just right a percussion ensemble can bring everlasting memories of joy. Here's a recording of various musical pieces played by the newly formed Japan-based ensemble called the Percussion Museum.

Formed in April of 1996, the Percussion Museum is a group of very talented individuals who wanted to express their music using beautiful percussion instruments. Percussion goes back a long way in Japanese culture-from celebrations to keeping away evil spirits. It's a tradition so instilled that it is literally part of the culture. So as music and culture evolve, new ideas and concepts will naturally emerge. Well, let's get right to the music.

Bizet's Carmen suite takes up the entire first side. Please be careful with the volume because you will soon learn how amazingly dynamic this recording truly is. The tympani and chimes sound off the beginning of the music ever so quietly that I felt this may be a quieter-cut recording. And then, only within moments, my system plays full force (and I do mean full force). The chimes at the beginning sound the best I've ever heard chimes in any recording in my humble 7,000+ record collection. Eventually the marimbas come in to help the crescendo, and then suddenly my entire room was filled will glorious percussion music. The clarity of not only the instruments, but also the hall, timbre, and depth help to give this recording my highest of marks. And this from a percussion disc no less, the sort of recording about which I'm the most skeptical. During the various movements of Carmen, the snare drum and triangle come in and sound, again, the best I've yet heard on any recording. From the lowest to highest of octaves there is a clarity and rightness that brought joy to my soul. Even the way the chime's pipes cause a phasey-type harmonic structure is gracefully captured. The upper-octave marimba strokes sound clean, clear, and powerful-a very hard instrument to capture well because any sign of hardness or brightness will show up. Imaging is excellent as well, although it's not just the sound quality of the instruments, the recording, or the vinyl pressing alone that counts per se. It's also the performance, which is musically sensational. When the music and musicianship sound this spectacular, what would you do? To top it all off, this record will test the dynamic capabilities of your system from the lowest to highest frequencies and dynamic levels. And please keep in mind we've only discussed side one so far!

Side two is Toccata for Percussion Instruments by Chávez and then Takemitsu's Rain Tree. The first track starts out with snare drum and eventually there comes a very big, deep, glorious bass drum that will shake your listening room (given the right setup). Towards the middle of this side, smaller gongs join in the music, shortly followed by this absolutely gorgeous, extremely well-recorded large gong. This is the best-recorded gong my ears have ever heard. You see, top-quality cymbals and gongs are hand-made. Just to give you an idea, at one point in my life I spent over six months searching countless stores for just the right ride-cymbal sound. The large gong used here has well-rounded and magnificent tonal qualities to it, and the recording techniques used allow one to sense the lovely hall this recording took place in. Aaaah, yes, bask in the glorious sound of music! The music ebbs and flows here giving the listener (me) a truly gratifying experience.

This album was funded and made by King Records in Japan, while the 180-gram vinyl is courtesy of The Super Analogue Disc folks under the Firebird label. Produced by the honorable Motohiko Takawa and engineered by Hatsuro Takanami, Percussion Museum has become a reference disc in my humble collection. My vinyl copy is very flat, as the pressing was done by none other than RTI, who also makes records for many highly acclaimed audiophile labels. In the end, this deserves to be the SoundStage! "Featured Release" for the month.