Patricia Brennan: Blindfold Test


“I got chills,” Patricia Brennan said while listening to the music of Chris Dingman.

(Photo: Frank Heath)

Having established herself as a master practitioner of extended techniques and electronic effects on vibraphone and marimba in the solo space on the 2021 release Maquishti (Valley of Search), Patricia Brennan extrapolates her singular vision on More Touch (Pyroclastic) with a quartet of virtuosos: Marcus Gilmore on drums, Mauricio Herrera on batá and congas and Kim Cass on bass. This was Brennan’s first Blindfold Test.

Karl Berger

“Cutting Through” (Crystal Fire, Enja, 1991) Berger, vibraphone; Dave Holland, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums.

Impressive player. It feels like somebody younger. But at the same time, it doesn’t. Players like Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson, especially when playing faster, the pedal is almost absent — and there’s very little pedal here. Nowadays we use a bit more pedal, more motor. The language is interesting, with unique characteristics. It sounds like two mallets. I could hear traditional aspects, but also unusual things, on the outer edge, like dampening the strokes at the end of the solo. I loved the drum solo: very thematic and clear development, more traditional ideas than the vibraphonist’s. The opening bass-vibes unison was super-clear and in-tune. That virtuosic aspect and the recording quality of the bass made me think of a more recent recording. 5 stars.

Bobby Hutcherson

“Besame Mucho” (Ambos Mundos, Landmark, 1989) Hutcherson, marimba; James Spaulding, flute; Smith Dobson, piano; Bruce Forman, guitar; Jeff Chambers, bass; Eddie Marshall, drums; Francisco Aguabella, congas; Orestes Vilató, timbales, congas; Roger Glenn, percussion, flute.

I love “Besame Mucho”! I haven’t heard this. The marimba’s reverb was recorded in a newer way, so it’s someone more recent than Bobby Hutcherson, who’s one of the first people I heard play marimba on a late-1960s jazz recording. I can’t get over how beautiful the interpretation is. It was cool how the theme returned under the guitar solo as a background instead of just comping — and in the lower register. Often vibes players play marimba the same as vibraphone, but this person respected how the instrument should be played differently. 5 stars.

Walt Dickerson/Sun Ra

“Utopia” (Visions, Steeplechase, 1978) Dickerson, vibraphone; Sun Ra, piano.

That would be amazing if it was released today. Or tomorrow. I love the little fast playing, with no pedal. It’s not about trying to play a line, but using the resonance, a gesture-texture-energy — those stops moving all over the place. Then the texture of the other instrument, which I think was piano. … Bass and piano? Only piano? Wow. The recording sounds like the 1970s. When the vibraphonist played a full tone and you heard that vibrato … that’s the ’70s vibraphone tone. You can do only so many things acoustically; for me, electronics offer another world to expand that language. 5 stars. [afterwards] I spaced out on Walt Dickerson. I love his creativity.

Warren Wolf

“Cell Phone” (Convergence, Mack Avenue, 2016) Wolf, marimba, vibraphone; Brad Mehldau, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Jeff Watts, drums.

Awesome track. Really energetic. The whole solo was on marimba — but were marimba and vibes doubled at the beginning? The harmonic language, that last upper-extension chord, showed that the player is younger than Stefon, playing marimba really well. The drummer was incredible, and the pianist was great. The whole ensemble kept up the energy throughout, interacting during the solo, always encouraging him to go further. Virtuosic. Is it Warren Wolf? 5 stars.

Yuhan Su

“Feet Music” (City Animals, Sunnyside, 2018) Yuhan Su, vibraphone; Alex LoRe, soprano saxophone; Matt Holman, trumpet; Petros Klampanis, bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell, drums.

Steve Nelson? It sounded like him: the four mallets; the old-and-new in the playing, sometimes without the motor, sometimes a more modern approach to the language. I liked the melody’s angular aspect, creating tension-and-release within ambiguity rather than just a hummable melody — even though it’s hummable, anyway. Always new textures, something going on. I loved the bassist’s little slides. I loved the vibes-drums duo that began the vibes solo; the drummer sustained the drive, very mature, never overpowering, but virtuosic. 5 stars.

John Zorn

“‘Atarah” (The Testament Of Solomon, Tzadik, 2014) Kenny Wollesen, vibraphone; Carol Emmanuel, harp; Bill Frisell, guitar; Zorn, composer.

I haven’t heard this. Is it just guitar and vibraphone? Harp, too? It was interesting how the guitar and harp player were interweaving like a giant instrument, expanding each other’s sonic palette. It blends well with the vibraphone. That distortion at the end was awesome. 5 stars.

Chris Dingman

“Refracted Light” (Journeys Vol. 1, Independent Release, 2022) Dingman, vibraphone.

Chris Dingman’s latest solo stuff. I got chills. He released this record at a tough time in his life, and I could feel that. Here, Chris strikes the bar in a way that creates the round, gentle sound, and he uses different extended techniques, like bowing — exploring the instrument in every single way. For me, solo vibraphone should incorporate that mindset, as a guitar player or pianist would do. Chris used the overdub technique, and rendered every layer with particular care. There was a repetitive, almost bell tone — a specific stroke, a specific mallet makes it sound pointy, not mellow and round like the other layers that established a bed of sound. It’s a painterly creativity: finding how many sound-producing colors you can extract from the source that’s before you and include them in your sonic palette. 5 stars. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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