The Year Before Yesterday (CD and Blu-ray review)

Percussion music of Kraft, Naidoo, Griswold, Pereira, Schankler, and Deyoe. Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. Sono Luminus DSL-92180 (2-disc set, CD & BD).

A couple of years before the present album, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet had a popular and critically acclaimed release with their multi-Grammy nominated Rupa-Khandha. This newer album from 2014, The Year Before Yesterday, is a sort of sequel to that success; and because a big part of both albums' success is the high quality of the sound, Sono Luminus is again issuing it in a two-disc set that includes both a standard compact disc and a high-definition Blu-ray disc.

The performances include a wide variety of percussion instruments, with the LAPQ playing them with consummate skill. The members of the LAPQ are Justin Dehart, performer and teacher at Chapman University Conservatory of Music; Matt Cook, drummer and percussionist; Cory Hills, performer and composer of over seventy-five compositions for percussion; and Nicholas Terry, a percussionist specializing in contemporary classical music. All of them are highly skilled artists well versed in the ways of modern percussion performance.

The album opens with a three-movement piece called Fore! by one of America's best-known composers of percussion music, William Kraft (b. 1923). Much of music utilizes marimba, chimes, vibraphone, and drums and provides a wealth of expression. Like most modern music, it seems more about descriptive phrasing than actual melody, but the rhythms are so infectious, the playing so good, and the recording so lifelike, it will have most listeners entranced for its duration. While I found most of the album fascinating, this item was my favorite selection on the program.

Next comes the title tune, The Year Before Yesterday, by South African composer Shaun Naidoo. Of interest, Mr. Naidoo holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition from the University of Southern California, a Masters degree in Composition from USC, and a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Theory and Piano Performance from Rhodes University in South Africa. One can see why the quartet chose this number as the title song. It is, indeed, a "song," a sweet and melodious tune punctuated by a series of finely etched impressions from the LAPQ.

After the title tune comes Give Us This Day, a five-movement work by Erik Griswold, whose Web site describes him as an "eclectic composer-pianist" who "fuses experimental, jazz and world music traditions to create works of striking originality." It combines orchestral percussion, "found objects," and toy instruments to produce a work that is both rhythmically driving, moody, and meditative by turns. The LAPQ give it an added vitality through their always precise yet vigorous playing. I especially loved the sound of its central movement, "Cold Steel." I saw maybe one of "The Expendables" in the title, Arnold or Sly.

Los Angeles Percussion Quartet
Concluding the program are three short pieces: Mallet Quartet by composer and percussionist Joseph Pereira, Principal Timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Blindness by composer, pianist, accordionist, and electronic musician Isaac Schankler; and Lullaby 5 by composer, conductor, and guitarist Nicholas Deyoe. Two vibraphones and two marimbas do combat in the Mallet Quartet, a remarkable set of rhythmic vibrations. The LAPQ make the four instruments do and sound like almost anything they choose. Amazing variety. Blindness is probably the quietest and most-sensitive piece on the program and Lullaby 5 the most ambitious despite its seemingly tranquil intertwining of instruments.

Producer Dan Merceruio and engineer Daniel Shores made the album in 24bit, 192kHz Surround Sound at Oliphant Hall, Chapman University, Orange, California in January 2014. Sono Luminus released the recording in this two-disc set on a standard CD in two-channel stereo and on a Blu-ray disc in high-definition multichannel (5.1 DTS  HD MA 24/192kHz, 7.1 DTS HD MA 24/96kHz, and 2.0 LPCM 24/192kHz). Since I have my Blu-ray player connected to my home-theater system in another room from my music system and since my music system has the superior speakers, I listened primarily to the standard CD in the music room. Afterwards, I listened to the Blu-ray disc in 5.1, 7.1, and 2.0 through my 7.1 home-theater system. Sonic comparisons between the two systems are unfair because, as I say, my two music-room speakers are far better than the seven speakers and subwoofer in the theater room. So, be aware that I took my impressions of the music's sound mainly from the two-channel CD. Fortunately, that was probably enough, and one can only imagine that the Blu-ray sound over the same quality system would be even better.

The sound from the CD alone appears state-of-the-art. The all-important transient response is very quick, combined with a wide dynamic range and strong impact. The instruments stand out clearly and sharply, as though they were in the room with you. What's more, even though the recording seems a mite close-up, there is still plenty of space and air around the instruments and a relatively long decay time on the notes so you get a realistic presence in the music. From the Blu-ray disc one gets the additional ambience of the surround channels and presumably greater definition from the higher bit rates involved.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa