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Percussion Theory

by Alejandro Coello

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Paco thumbnail
Paco At first I was dubious. A percussion album? Is this really going to be a good listen? But it is, I promise. Favorite track: Switch.
Sven B. Schreiber (sbs)
Sven B. Schreiber (sbs) thumbnail
Sven B. Schreiber (sbs) This is an album for fans of mallet percussion. But besides great marimba and vibraphone lines, there are several other extras on this album, like the superb drums contributed by the incredible Simon Phillips on three tracks, for instance. The compositions, most of them written by Alejandro Coello himself, range from fusion over neo-classical to largely experimental avantgarde. Favorite track: 9th Street Espresso.
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Xochitl 06:03
Period 07:22
Switch 05:56
Malpaises 07:14


24 bit / 44k

The world of contemporary percussion music is a small one. It relies on a limited repertory that only grows at a glacial pace. It takes a youthful zeal and experimentation to buck trends, so it is not surprising that there have been a number of rising composers and performers who have made it their goal to move the music forward. On his new Percussion Theory, percussionist Alejandro Coello hopes to bridge genres and provide a new approach to contemporary percussion performance.

Mallet master Coello is one of these spirited explorers aiming to broaden musical horizons for future percussionists. Hailing from Léon, Spain, Coello has come a long way in a short time. He became percussion instructor at the famed University of Music Franz Liszt in Weimar, Germany at 23 years old and has written and arranged for ensembles of all stripes and for film. He has also performed and taught all over the world. Coello’s enthusiasm for music of fantastic breadth has led him to collaborate and write for musicians involved in music of all sorts, most notably classical, jazz and electronic, having pieces performed by the Berliner Philharmonie and in Carnegie Hall.

Over the past few years and to counter out of date systems, Coello has developed his own method of practice and teaching. His focus has broadened his musical palette, moving away from percussion’s rhythmic fundamentalism to a more harmonically adventurous space. Coello’s music utilizes mallet based harmonic percussion instruments, like vibraphone and marimba, to navigate his eclectic output.

Coello met the classically trained guitarist and fellow Spaniard Diego Barber in 2016 through a mutual friend and instructor at the University, Ricardo Gallén. Barber’s catholic tastes and enthusiasm led to an inspiring collaboration, resulting in the guitarist’s recording, One Minute Later (Sunnyside, 2017). In their give and take, Coello shared his unique work and thoughts with Barber, who introduced the percussionist to uncountable influences in the jazz world and pushed him to complete his unfinished compositions to get them released.

The leader brought together a host of amazing musicians to realize his original compositions and an arrangement of a composition by Barber. Coello enlisted the Art Government, a percussion group made up of his former students and his peers, along with the incredible classical saxophonist Xabier Casal and legendary prog rock drummer Simon Phillips, who adds his incredible flair to a handful of tracks.

The recording begins with “9th Street Espresso,” a piece inspired by New York’s nervous beat and with a smooth and wonderfully lush orchestration providing a perfect bed for Casal’s sax and Phillip’s insistent drumming. The title of “Xochitl” comes from the Nahuatl word for flower and is a slowly blossoming tribute to Coello’s wife. The cinematic “Period” is a more contemporary piece that utilizes a number of interesting technical practices, including intentional detuning and customized vibraphone speeds.

The spacey “Switch” uses electronic manipulation and features Coello playing vibes and marimba simultaneously, the virtuosity only heightened by the addition of the bombastic drums of Phillips toward the end. Originally written for a short film, “Denial State” is a challenging piece and the complex centerpiece of the album that was initially only percussion before Coello added a formidable part for Casal’s sax.

A portion of Coello’s family lives on the Canary Island called Tenerife where they have jagged, unpassable areas of land created by volcanic lava flow. “Malpaises” takes its name and uneven character from these areas and features the deft hand of Diego Barber on guitar. The exhilarating “Kilian’s Mountain” is from the pen of Barber and went through many iterations: including all marimba and vibes, then adding guitar, then replacing the guitar with piano, an instrument that Coello has also added to his instrument arsenal. The drama is heightened by Simon Phillips incredible, impromptu drum performance.

Alejandro Coello’s fascinating Percussion Theory provides a perfect example of what the future of contemporary classical and percussion derived music can be.


released April 5, 2019

Alejandro Coello - percussion, piano
Simon Phillips - drums (1, 4, 7)
Xavier Casal - alto & baritone sax (1, 2, 5)
Diego Barber - guitar (6)
Art Government Percussion (1, 2, 5, 7):
Luge Zhang
Pablo Reyes
Alexander Schachert
Gabriel López
Guillermo Rodriguez
Marc Pérez
Yuting Chen
Florian Kirchner
Pedro Rosenthal


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