At this stage in Glenn Kotche’s career, after logging more than a decade with Wilco, as well as putting in time with a raft of more avant-leaning rock ensembles or even jazz troupes, the drummer should be commended for helping conceive of a project with such a lauded new music ensemble. And while some of S? Percussion’s fan contingent might be lusting after updated and more muscular Steve Reichian jamming, there’s a bit too much foppery dragging down Drumkit Quartets for that ever to emerge.
Compositionally, Kotche’s work moves from meticulously timed and layered statements of a lifetime percussionist to trying bits of spoken word sprinkled into songs evocative enough to summon cloistered South American percussionists, joyously unaware of dad rock’s pervasiveness. But “Drumkit Quartet 51 (Chicago Realization),” after making it through the din of coffeehouse chicanery, teeters toward some rhythmic accomplishment. Marimbas are bolstered by keen strokes on a drum set, eventually being overrun by melody.
Sequencing of the work lands the most abstract snippet, “Drumkit Quartet 6,” at the album’s end. Humming cymbals and some chirping—perhaps digital trickery or just a deviously plied pipe—furthers a south-of-the-equator vibe. The whole thing fades away, though, leaving that birdsong to dissipate, just as the overwhelming potential for Drumkit Quartets does during the course of a listen to the album.
Maybe all of this doesn’t matter, though. It’s pretty likely that if Kotche hadn’t consented to writing pieces for S? Percussion, the ensemble would have persisted, continuing to enliven interpretations of 20th Century composers and pique the interest of NPR’s core audience. There likely would have just been fewer people to hear it all. Drumkit Quartets then ranks as just a notch on Kotche’s belt, but at least it’s an almost-enthralling one.