Alexandra Gardner
March 20, 2012

Kick & Ride proves an apt title for composer Eric Moe's recent BMOP Sound release, highlighting his use of drum set and percussion throughout the three compositions represented. The high energy works, characterized by Moe in the liner notes as "cantankerous sisters," indeed deliver shots of dramatic flair and suspenseful anxiety that could nearly persuade a listener to skip that all-important morning cup of coffee.

The first work on the CD, Superhero, is scored for Pierrot ensemble, and musically traces the trials and tribulations of an imaginary comic book character as planets are saved, evil twins are vanquished, and existential crises are survived. It is possible to hear within the work's five movements the car chases, the personal anguish, and the sonic representations of the KA-POWs and BLAMMOs associated with favorite comic book superheroes. Before any assumptions are made about the somewhat lighthearted theme of this piece, rest assured that this is serious, thoughtfully rendered music, that Moe says is an affectionate, rather than an ironic, glimpse into the concept of the superhero. The musicians give beautifully crisp, tight performances, reflecting both energy and repose in their allotted places.

Eight Point Turn begins with the pulse of sand blocks paired with a low-register contrabass ostinato, onto which other instruments gradually pile to create obsessively winding circular patterns. These motions are interrupted at many points, but persevere in shifting orchestrations and harmonic schemes, giving a sense of navigating narrow switchback trails up a mountain.

Although the title track of the CD, Kick & Ride, is a drum set concerto in two movements for the percussionist Robert Schulz and BMOP, Moe reimagines the concerto format in his own fashion. The opening features call-and-response patterns between drum set and orchestra, but overall, rather than composing a competitive, back-and-forth dialogue between drum kit and orchestra, their relationship has to do with whether they are in sync or playing independently of one another. In the first movement, "The Cracked Tune that Chronos Sings," the drum set often plays delicately, very much behind the orchestra, allowing long, lean string melodies to come to the forefront. Eventually, filigree patterns between cymbals and drums erupt into a full drum kit cadenza, which abruptly cuts away to a sober conclusion in winds and brass.

The second movement, "Slipstream," opens with a reference to the "Wipeout" rhythm, which is quickly farmed out to various pitched instruments and continues to color the entire movement. Again the drums travel from foreground to background and back again, almost without pause, carrying on independent conversations and occasionally chiming into the group talk, ultimately joining the orchestra in an intensely romping final climax.

All of the pieces on Kick & Ride feature idiomatic, finely wrought writing for all of the instruments, but it is especially notable that the drum set music sounds completely natural and fits organically into the different ensemble settings. Although it is possible to hear whispers of many different types of music—rock and roll, African, jazz, etc.—Moe has made the music his own. This disc is a treat for percussionists, for composers on the lookout for effective drum set writing, and for contemporary music listeners in general.