Review: Third Coast Percussion Premieres New Work by Carlos Carrillo
Third Coast Percussion (TCP) is an immensely talented quartet of musicians that have taken percussion to new levels with each performance. David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors have been creating music and unique experiences by collaborating with composers and performers since 2005. TCP has done so much to illustrate percussion as an art form itself and redefine what makes an instrument. On January 19, they presented the mainland premiere of Música Poética by Afro-Caribbean composer Carlos Carrillo at Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center (SRBCC) in Chicago.
SRBCC has been around for 50 years as a place where young people can explore and learn music-particularly Afro-Latin music. It is a cause very dear to Carrillo, who has set up programs for youth who do not have access to classes in music theory and may not qualify to get into elite college music programs. Carrillo is currently a professor at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana, where he can help form the musical education that inspires future composers.
The opening act for TCP was La Cantera, an ensemble in residence at SRBCC. They played a Latin Jazz set that was on par with our finest city musicians. They also play at other venues but their home base is SRBCC, where they learn and foster a love of music in young people like themselves. They played a 30-minute set of Afro-Latin music that was heavy on percussion, guitar, and trumpet. It was danceable and fun to listen to as the crowd poured into the space. There was the delicious aroma of Puerto Rican and Cuban food for sale that took me back to my days spent at Luquillo Beach in Puerto Rico.
TCP took a more ceremonial approach to the Música Poética suite by entering in a processional style with terra cotta pots, bells, a hand drum, and gourds. The evening took on a spiritual feel for me reminiscent of the Catholic mass with a syncretic approach. TCP built special structures for their processional instruments, wood planks of different pitches, and 12 different sizes of sheet metal for the first piece based on the poem “Four Walls”. This was recently added to complete the suite and premiered in Carrillo’s homeland Puerto Rico.
It was a glorious burst of sound that I had come to expect from TCP. The time and effort spent to gauge tones and notes out of pieces of wood and metal boggles the mind but infuses the body with rhythm. I could feel each note and have to point out that TCP uses the air as an instrument. They used drumsticks to make a whooshing sound with the air that fit into the score.
Carrillo was introduced to the audience by TCP member David Skidmore who asked about his method of composing music. Carrillo has a doctorate in composition and music but his music is about feeling and the beauty of the Afro-Caribbean culture. Carrillo introduced the second piece "Canción" after reading the poem by Nicolás Guillén. The poem speaks of the return of spring, crying, death, and passion. TCP was joined by Zachary Good on clarinet, Katherine Jimoh on bass clarinet, and Juan Horie on cello. They fit in perfectly with TCP’s use of bowing on xylophones and marimbas. According to Carrillo, the use of claves (wooden sticks) in this piece was intentional because “Canción” is in 5/8 and claves cannot do that beat. To me, this spoke of the juxtaposition of emotions in relationships and life. What seems impossible is impossible but it happens anyway forcing us to adjust our expectations and views.
Again, I found this composition deeply spiritual with the growl of the bass clarinet and the cello sometimes in what seemed to be counterpoint. It felt like night in Puerto Rico where the sounds of the greenery and the insects form their composition. "Canción" was the response to the call of a tropical night.
The final piece Dueling with Time, "Bartering for Minutes of Existence" was originally composed in 2006 and then revised in 2019. It featured the TCP quartet and Juan Horie on the cello. It was a perfect finale with Horie bowing in bursts and using the body of the cello as percussion. The array of instruments on the stage included gongs, one that seemed created out of bells and a keyboard stand, and of course the multiple xylophones all being bowed rather than struck with mallets. The vibe was attentive and buzzing with energy.
It was perfect to have Música Poética in a space that fosters creativity and allows a culture to flower within the parameters of different musical genres. Puerto Rico and Cuba are not usually the first in mind when classical music is the subject. Carrillo is a part of making significant changes in that mindset. Third Coast Percussion has always been ahead of the curve in promoting the music of new composers of new music from where it may not be expected. They all take such joy in playing and watching them brings joy as well.
Música Poética premiered on January 19, at Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, 4046 W. Armitage. For more information about SRBCC please visit https://segundoruizbelvis.org/ Find more information and future performances for Third Coast Percussion visit https://www.thirdcoastpercussion.com/ Send good vibes to TCP. They are up for a Grammy™ next week!