Album title: Kuniko Plays Reich
Performers: Kuniko Kato
Label: Linn Records - SACD CKD385 (also available as FLAC, WMA and MP3 downloads)
Playing time: 41:06
Recorded: Nashville, Tokyo, Nagoya from January 2009 to March 2010

Steve Reich is turning 75 in 2011 so I expect we might see a few recordings featuring his work to celebrate the occasion. These arrangements for percussion of some of his most famous pieces are certainly an ambitious way to get started. Reich is considered by many to be the most influential US composer alive today and his pioneering of minimalist music unquestionably had a deep and lasting impact on many contemporary musicians. Reich’s style is mostly characterized by the use of simple overlaid repetitive yet always evolving patterns and processes to create slow motion moods and atmospheres.

Obviously that very style is dependent on the musicians’ ability to create that perpetually evolving pattern without introducing artificial disruptions in the fabric of sound. And that’s where Kuniko’s arrangements failed to convince. Kuniko Kato is probably one of the most gifted and creative percussionists today and there is no doubt that she’s put tremendous thought and effort in preserving the original flow of the guitar and flute works. Truth be told though, there's nothing she can do about the disruptive nature of percussion. Each initial impact on her vibraphone, even as controlled as she can make it, still breaches the continuum of the composition and breaks the spell.

Of course her arrangement of the six marimba counterpoints for solo instrument and recorded tape does not suffer from the same issue as the original piece is indeed for marimba but you won’t be surprised if I tell you that it is probably not my favorite piece by Reich for that very reason. If you are looking into becoming familiar with Reich’s work, I would start with the original versions of the works recorded here, not these arrangements for percussion. If you are a Reich connoisseur you should give Kuniko’s recording a chance. I don’t care for it but Steve Reich does. His opinion should matter more than mine.