ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE REVIEWS
Percussion is often treated as rhythmic garnish but, in the right hands, it can be the meal itself. Light spices, meaty grooves and flavorful accents can provide more than enough sustenance for the ear if they're blended in the right proportions and percussionist Tom Teasley proves that this hypothesis holds water on this, his eighth recording.
All The World's A Stage is an overdubbed discourse on the art of tearing down cultural boundaries in the world of percussion. Teasley, a two-time winner of the Helen Hayes Theater Award recipient for outstanding sound design and recipient of three Fulbright-Hayes grants for performances in the Middle East, uses a stockpile of instruments acquired during his globetrotting escapades to create a percussive quilt of many ethnic colors. He taps into the very heartbeat of India, Ireland, The Middle East, Africa and other disparate locales as he crafts cinematic sound collages for the soul. In many ways, a more apt title for this album might have been All The World's A Source.
The journey begins with Teasley's balafon work taking center stage on "Oresteia Furies Dance," but things quickly move in another direction with "Rumba For Rama." Alto melodica moves into the spotlight on this number, as hand drums, cymbals and marimba sounds create a supportive base. "Nights Over Baghdad" is an appropriate labeling for a number that features a seductive melody over swaying grooves and Teasley turns his attention to expansive, Indo-infused music on "Fuska And Varuna," which features vocal percussion. His flute-like bansari whistle tweets and flutters around on "Return Of The Greenbird" and Asiatic influences are artfully blended into an Arabian tapestry on "Rise Up," which features koto-like sounds from Teasley's MalletKat and alluring melodies on alto melodica. Allaboutjazz.com
Tom Teasley – All the World’s a Stage – T&T Music
Percussionist Tom Teasley takes the concept of a one-man band to a unique level on his eighth album as a leader, All the World’s a Stage. Over the course of 41 minutes and nine tracks, Teasley overdubs a large collection of traditional, ethnic, digital and self-created percussion instruments to produce a simulated percussion ensemble. Teasley uses both acoustic and electronic instruments to craft a multi-cultural track list which showcases Teasley’s varied influences, from Middle Eastern tonalities to those from India, and from African inspirations to American jazz. Teasley’s pan-global approach is always filtered through his own viewpoint and perspective, which provides a personable fusion.
Although there is no specific thematic unit which runs through the material, on most pieces Teasley utilizes one of four types of melodica (which has a musical keyboard on top and is played by blowing air through a mouthpiece attached to the instrument’s side), which helps provide a comprehensive sound which unifies Teasley’s music. Rhythm is paramount. Each cut has a dance-delineated declination. This can be experienced from the outset on the South Indian-oriented “Oresteia Furies Dance,” where Teasley plays the balafon (an African wooden percussion instrument related to the xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel and the vibraphone: sound is formed by hitting tuned keys with padded sticks), adds vocal percussion effects, and manipulates both the Roland HandSonic (a multi-pad, midi-based, hand-drum machine) and his self-produced Aquasonic (which has a metal base filled with water, and spokes of differing length bowed with a cello bow). “Fuska and Varona” (the title comes from two theatrical characters) has a similar arrangement and quality, where electronic and traditional percussive elements (including both bass and soprano melodica and cymbals) also commingle. Another distinctive percussive tool is heard here, the midi-controlled MalletKAT, which Teasley operates to layer in other percussive timbres.
Teasley constructs a sense of dramatic narrative on some cuts, which draw on Teasley’s award-winning theatrical/stage work. During the lightly melancholic “Orestes’ Lament,” Teasley employs an alto melodica, a spring drum, a djembe (a rope-tuned, skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands, associated with Mali in West Africa) and other percussive implements, to sculpt a metrical footing. A Korg Wave Drum allows Teasley to integrate an underlying contemporary coloring. There is a fauna foundation on the minimalist “Return of the Green Bird,” where Teasley incorporates a Bansari whistle (which has a flute-ish characteristic), which echoes the sound of tropical birds; the lap style bodhrán (an Irish frame drum) and the riqq (an Arabian tambourine), thus fashioning one of the album’s more notable hybrid compositions. There is a different sort of story-like stratagem to “Nights Over Baghdad,” inspired by Teasley’s U.S. Dept. of State visit to Iraq and other nearby areas. While Teasley performs on a sweet soprano melodica (the primary instrument which carries the main theme and melody), he supplements the number with the riqq, a doumbek (a hand drum with a crisp, bass resonance), the MalletKAT and a cajón (a Peruvian, box-shaped wooden drum). Teasley closes with two artful tracks. “Rise Up” contains Asiatic flickers via Teasley’s koto-like allusions, derived from the MalletKAT, as well as a Middle Eastern refrain which comes from the riqq. Teasley’s alluring melody is fed through an alto melodica. Synthesized dynamics sift through the brief “Setzuan Blues,” which marries an Asian pattern with a blues treatment. It seems as if there are fewer and fewer all-percussion projects available, particularly any which have the melodic flair shown on All the World’s a Stage, so Tom Teasley’s continuing inventiveness in the sphere of percussion composition is a good sign that such endeavors can be released and find a home with listeners who can appreciate such ventures.--- Doug Simpson, "Audiophile Audition"
Brilliant. That’s the short of it. Tom Teasley’s “All The World’s A Stage” is such a uniquely and expertly crafted set of percussive movements that calling it anything else simply wouldn’t be accurate. Yes, it’s thick. No, it’s not for the casual music fan. The stuff demands intensive work from the listener to accept, let alone grasp. In a popular music lexicon overly dependent on simplicity and surface, there’s a criminal lack of room for something this textured, this inventive, this ... good.
But that’s precisely what makes the nine-song set so impressive: It takes guts to dive into West African rhythms and Middle-Eastern influences as a practice, let alone as something a single artist could master. Teasley proves his expertise over and over and over without regard for listeners who enjoy internalizing the sounds they hear with a side of easy. Each track is devoid of words. Each song makes use of instruments you can’t actually pronounce. And the explorative time signatures that switch with an unfair amount of ease will leave even the jazziest of jazz fans wondering why their head won’t stop spinning.
Cynics might call it all too pretentious to ponder, but those who do are lazy. The mere notion that all of the music presented is performed by a single individual is a revelation in education. Take “Fuska And Varuna.” In a matter of nearly 4 1/2 minutes, you hear the following instruments: A Korg Wavedrum. A Malley Kat. Cajon. Bass Melodica, as well as a Sporano Melodica. A type of vocal percussion labeled Kannakol. And, of course, cymbals. It all amounts to a moody soundtrack for traveling busy desert cities at night, when God knows what you might find down a dirty alley. Transportation rarely sounds this tangible.
Opener “Oresteia Furies Dance” figures to be the most accessible of the bunch as Teasley gets intricate with his Balafon, an African xylophone that runs here as though a tiger is chasing it through the rain-forest. The lightning-quick rudimentary action is impressive for anyone who may have moonlighted as a drummer at one point in their lives. The rolls are just so clean and so acute that you have to wonder how he pulls it off in the flesh. Plus, the added vocal percussion draws directly from Paul Simon’s “Graceland” or, better yet, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in such a way that can be described as only sublime.
Teasley likes to describe himself as a jazz artist first, though, and that influence can be found on “Rumba For Rama,” “Nights Over Baghdad” and “Rise Up” for varying reasons. The latter brings to light intriguing cymbal patterns that rival those of legend Joe Morello, with whom the D.C.-area artist has studied. The tones constantly redefine themselves underneath Middle-Eastern melodies that do all they can do overshadow the unavoidable Sabian work Teasley accomplishes. Conversely, “Baghdad” centers around what sounds like a marching snare drum fueling some type of high school football game’s half-time show. Accentuating the pace is some solid, addicting melodica work that embeds itself deep within the fabric of the finished product.
Even slowing everything down serves the set well. “Orestes’ Lament” could almost double as an experimental take on mid-1980s progressive rock that would make Stewart Copeland salivate. “Setzuan Blues,” the collection’s tiny swan song, is Arabic to the core, though a perfect way to sum it all up. At three instruments, the track is not only the album’s shortest, but it also uses the least amount of toys any song gets. It’s a simple and smart way to close up shop, somewhat of a snarky admission of conclusion that justifies the brains behind all the brawn this record bleeds.
Then again, “All The World’s A Stage” doesn’t really need an act of vindication to prove its place among some of the best music the D.C. metropolitan area has seen. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a whirlwind of sounds, experiments, successes and imagination. To hear what this guy can accomplish through these very specific and very foreign instruments is like watching a poet laureate recite his best book of work to a crowd eager to absorb perspective, eager to absorb art.
Tom Teasley is an artist, all right. And a darn good one at that.
Four stars out of four.
Colin McGuire is a writer and page designer at the News-Post as well the music reviews editor at PopMatters.com. His blog, TV Without A TV, can be found at blog.fredericknewspost.com.
With “All The World’s A Stage, award winning percussionist Tom Teasley has created a feast of soundscapes with the rhythms and sounds of instruments from around the world. There are so many colors and textures of the Middle East and Asia. Teasley plays instruments that many have never heard of, including the aquasonic, balafon, bodhran, cajon, didgi-harp, riqq, melodica, coumbek, Korg wavedrum, Roland HandSonic, MalletKat, and bansari whistle. Nice mix of acoustic, and electronic percussion with endless possibilities.
In the days of the digital download and pre-ordering of new releases the standard "street date" is about the last remaining piece of what was once considered the cornerstone of the old fashioned major label protocol. This Independent release from Teasley is his eight and arguably his finest as he turns percussion into a global feast hitting both the visceral and cerebral portions of the human experience, All The World's A Stage should continue to garner world wide acclaim for this prolific talent.
Playing a dozen different instruments on a collection of nine original compositions, Teasley draws from a myriad of influences to develop a unqiuely lyrical yet textured layer of sound and spatial effects not to mention two prestigious Helen Hayes Awards for outstanding sound dsign. This same prodigious output on his previous work has earned wide spread critical acclaim.
Teasley refers to All the World's a Stage as “a snapshot of all of my recent work - my solo performances, where I perform on multiple instruments and create virtual ensembles through the use of digital looping, and my composing and performing for various theater productions, ranging from Mary Zimmerman's 'Arabian Nights' to the Indian epic 'The Ramayana' to the upcoming 'Conference of the Birds,' which is based on a seminal work by the Persian poet, Farid ud-Din Attar. Perhaps most importantly, it's inspired by my experiences as a cultural envoy for the US State Department, traveling to and collaborating with master musicians in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jerusalem.
While Teasley uses a wide range of exotic percussion instruments, his utilization of the melodica as the primary melodic voice elevates his percussive nuances to the next level. A new level of lyrical control is now at Teasley's disposal not to mention an additional layer of creativity left previously untapped until now. A personal release has a majority of the tunes here pulled from experiences gathered while studying, touring and performing in the Middle East. Teasley makes specific mention of the treatment of women in the Middle East and another of the many layers found in this release is a marker for social justice. Teasley simply seeks an understanding of the limitless power of music and how it may supersede the overall aesthetic value that is arbitrarily placed on certain artists but both labels and critics alike not fully understanding the true meaning of the work itself.
While South African influences certainly play a dramatic role in Teasley's art and thoughtful presentation. Bruce Wittet in Modern Drummer Magazine may have said it best; "...give Tom a bass drum, a snare drum and a djembe' and he'll give you part Stravinsky, part Art Blakey."
Given the rarity of a instrumentalist and composer while working as a percussionist, Teasley transcends genre and even global limitations other artists would fear to come near. The hybridization of Teasley's percussive genius knows no real bounds and is a fluent transition from the ancient percussion influences to the day of the digital download. An evolving artist taking the musical road less traveled.
Tracks: Oresteia Furies Dance; Rumba for Rama; The Apple Song; Nights Over Baghdad; Orestes' Lament; Fuska and Varuna; Return Of The Green Bird; Rise Up; Setzuan Blues.
Personnel: Tom Teasley - all instruments.
Expansive melodies. Rhythmic pulses that create their own ambient texture. A drummer or percussionists dream and the world music aficionado should adore this recording.---Criticaljazz.com
With "All The World's A Stage, award winning percussionist Tom Teasley has created a feast of soundscapes with the rhythms and sounds of instruments from around the world. There are so many colors and textures of the Middle East and Asia. Teasley plays instruments that many have never heard of, including the aquasonic, balafon, bodhran, cajon, didgi-harp, riqq, melodica, coumbek, Korg wavedrum, Roland HandSonic, MalletKat, and bansari whistle. Nice mix of acoustic, and electronic percussion with endless possibilities.
It's always a treat getting a project from a percussionist, because when you are a supporting musician, your job is to make the lead performer sound as good as possible, and not necessarily to display all of the skills you have within your arsenal of skills. Now, on this 9 track CD, music fans will get to connect with a wide range of exotic sounds, and something as simple as a whistle takes on a different purpose when used for percussion, most notably on the track "Rise Up". The voice is another interesting 'instrument' when applied by Mr. Teasley, not like a beat box but with the techniques used in Indian music, heard on "Fuska and Varuna". This is a CD that will bring you to new places and you'll be glad that you took the trip. Happy travels.
Posted 8th November 2012 by Michele Wilson-Morris Labels: All The World's A Stage Asia balafon bodhran cajon drummer Fuska and Varuna Korg wavedrum Middle East percussionist Tom Teasley
With years of music behind him that he has shared with the world, perhaps it’s appropriate that Tom Teasley has decided to bring the world to his fans. All The World’s A Stage (T&T Music) is a nine-song voyage around the world through music, covering not only his influences, but the influence of music itself, where you might here the familiar but through other means. The way the album begins with “Oresteia Furies Dance” is perfect, as it sounds like vitality unfolding before the trip begins. What’s also great is when he crosses different styles, thus directly mixing up cultures, which in essence helps to create the image of what the world is today. What’s also cool is that Teasley played everything on this, which is a way of saying that one should not place limits in our lives, and definitely not when it comes to the exploration of people around the world and the music that they call home. One world, one people, one music, one home.---The Entertainment Bank