Man Forever with So Percussion — Ryonen (Thrill Jockey)

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When John Colpitts toured his Man Forever project a year or two ago, he would routinely pull another drummer out of the local scene — if not from the audience. The two of them would face each other, each seated in front of a single drum, and commence. The time I saw Man Forever, the recruit was visibly straining to keep up, his participation active, full of listening and striving and trying to figure the thing out. Colpitts, by contrast, was sweatily serene as he powered through a half an hour of drum rolling. The music was so clearly about communicating, wordlessly, mind to mind, through shared physical and mental effort.

This new collaboration between Man Forever and So Percussion is that experience times four.

Except it’s not clear who’s driving and who’s following. There is a certain conservatory-derived precision to these two long tracks, as a plethora of percussive instruments intersect and create mathematical patterns. Ryonen is considerably more cerebral and tone-varied than anything Man Forever has done before. Yet there’s also a certain ecstatic release, a letting go of control, a spiritual-charged bungee jump in this music I associate wholly with Colpitts. And more than that, the energy ebbs and flows between these two poles, so that intellectual inquiry becomes a gateway towards straight-on freakery, and wild intuitive leaps make sense of complex formulae.

The first piece, “The Clear Realization” begins with a very Oneida-ish kit rhythm, joined in a little while by bongos, cymbals, snares, multiple toms and, finally, voices in a sort of Gregorian chant. Complex and frictive in its parts, energetic in its execution, as full of action and reaction as a desk stop pendulum set, the piece is transcends its complexity for absolute calm. It’s like a mosaic in which a million jagged, sharp bits form a picture of sky and clouds, violent parts yielding a peaceful whole.

“Ryonen,” the second half, is longer and more explosive, an all-over-the-kit scramble slowly gaining definition as you listen to it. Your friends who make fun of you for listening to records that are 100-percent drumming will have a field day with this one, but don’t listen to them; there’s a structure in the chaos that you can only hear if you pay attention. There’s also a tension between the parts, the rattling toms, the reverberating bongos, the low roar of something loose and big and percussive, so that you can nearly sense the musicians thinking at one another. This one, too, has some singing in it, but it seems less integral than before. The finish, which is glorious, lets the physicality of the drumming push through, past abstraction, past reference, past the players’ exhaustion, until it is the thing itself: a revelation.  

Jennifer Kelly

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