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Pratts Alchemy by Daryl Pratt

It’s a little difficult to really get my head around the latest disc from Daryl Pratt - "Pratt’s Alchemy." To call it a jazz album would be to stretch the definition of the word to an alarming degree. Of course, the argument about what is and what is not jazz is as old as jazz itself, so I suppose the determination is best derived from the ear of the beholder. Having said that, on all but the last track my ear beholds little that is ‘jazzy’ on this collection of five tunes.

It’s not that Pratt and his cohorts are not marvelous musicians. But when I first listened to this disc, the comparison that immediately came to mind was that of steak tartar (raw ground beef). Steak tartar is a fine delicacy, but one that is, without doubt, a bit of an acquired taste. And so it is with the music on this CD - it is certainly exquisite but this music (which is more closely related to classic than it is to jazz) is definitely not going to appeal to everyone. The classical direction is not surprising considering Pratt’s background. He has a Bachelor’s degree from the California Institute of the Arts and a Master’s from UC San Diego, and while he has a very broad performance background, his emphasis has been in improvised and contemporary classical music (he has taught at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, in Australia, since 1991.)

The first four tracks of this album are pure percussion - vibraphone, claves, guiros, hand bells, whistles, etc. Much of the music is stark and very minimalistic - there are passages as long as a minute which are so quiet you might think the CD had stopped playing. Adding to the originality of this recording is the fact that the various percussive instruments are not always played in the traditional way - at times strange sounds are created by using one instrument to create sound on another; i.e., rolling the claves across the vibraphone or using the hand bells to activate the vibraphone.

All the music on this disc was written by Pratt. Three of the pieces were composed for duo concerts and two were commissioned for the percussion quartet Synergy. Here Synergy performs the first track, "Fantasy," in the configuration of Michael Askill, Ian Cleworth, Alison Eddington and Colin Piper. The next track, "Villa Montezuma," features Pratt alone on vibraphone and other percussion. "Bundanon Landscape", the third track, is a duet played by Pratt and Eddington. For the fourth track, "Web Spinner," Eddington plays solo vibraphone. "Alchemy," the fifth and final track, is the only truly jazz piece on the album, and it is a real tour de force - a great modern jazz composition that incorporates some very creative percussion work . It again features Synergy, but this time Cleworth and Piper are replaced by Tim Constable and Phil South. In addition, the group is joined by Dale Barlow on tenor saxophone, Mike Nock on piano and Chad Wackerman on drum kit. The track clocks in at 20:53 and in that period of almost twenty-one minutes it takes the listener on a fantastic journey as the musicians both soar and dig deep down with technical and improvisational chops that constantly amaze.

This album is definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are a big fan of percussive orchestrations, this just might be the CD for you.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Daryl Pratt
  • CD Title: Pratts Alchemy
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Tall Poppies Records
  • Tracks: Fantasy, Villa Montezuma, Bundanon Landscape, Web Spinner, Alchemy
  • Musicians: Daryl Pratt (vibraphone, various percussion instruments), Dale Barlow (tenor saxophone), Mike Nock (piano), Chad Wackerman (drum kit), Synergy (Michael Askill, Ian Cleworth, Alison Eddington, Colin Piper, Tim Constable, Phil South)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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