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Let there be rhythm

The Big Bang
The Big Bang
By various artists

Ellipsis Arts: 1994

This review first appeared in the January 27, 1995 issue of the North County Blade-Citizen (now North County Times).

"In the beginning was the drum" is the motto of "The Big Bang," a three-CD box set focused on percussion around the world. The sixth box set from Ellipsis Arts, "The Big Bang" covers a lot of ground without ever getting disjointed or losing focus.

Each of the three discs opens and closes with recordings of nature made by Bernie Krause. These sounds of the jungle (including one track of chimpanzees beating on tree trunks) display a natural rhythm illustrating that all music is based on a meter drawn from the world around us. Still and all, chimps hitting trees don't have the polyrhythmic drive that the Tumuenua Dance Group drumming quartet from the cook Islands has, nor that of African drum master Babatunde Olatunji or of the Orchestra of Chinese Central Music College.

Most of the artists found here – no matter which corner of the globe they hail from – feature a pulsating, driving beat that begs to be danced to.

And it isn't just traditional or folk music found here, either. "The Big Bang" also features modern-day popular and experimental percussion music, from Carl Palmer's extended drum solo on the Emerson, Lake and Palmer song "Karn Evil 9" to the quasi-traditional explorations of light jazz artists George Jinda (from Special EFX) and Minu Cinelu to the contemporary African combo Farafina that melds the historic tribal sounds of Burkina Faso with today's pop music.

As with all Ellipsis Arts packages to date, the accompanying booklet is a wealth of information and outstanding photography. There are quotes from various experts and drummers to put the music into context, biographical information on the various musicians, and explanations of the different instruments heard.

The music itself, while often exotic and new to the average American set of ears, is uniformly excellent and never so weird as to be unlistenable. As many of these tracks are drawn from other recordings on other labels, and as all of the recording information is included, this is as solid an intro to percussion music as one will find.