Three Percussion Records You Should Own

Pictured are three percussion records you should own—especially if you feel like banging your head against the wall. One is an "oldie" Living Stereo novelty that's back in print, one was originally released in 1984 thanks to a grant from The National Endowment For the Arts (today an endangered species) reissued in the 1990s and one is a current release.

The three records are Music For Bang Baaroom and Harp (RCA LSP-1866) by Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble, originally issued by RCA in 1958, reissued in the 1990s by Classic Records and just recently by Analogue Productions, Pulse, works for percussion and strings (NW319) by The New Music Consort originally issued in 1984 by New World Records and reissued in the 1990s by Classic Records and Smoke & Mirrors Percussion Ensemble (YAR17255-195V) a 2015 Yarlung Records release.

All three of these records will raise a glorious sonic racket, give your adrenal glands a massage and hopefully provide a unique form of "in the pocket" mental stimulation. If your system can produce wide dynamic swings, and super-deep bass, you'll have the audio time of your life.

Music For Bang, Baaroom and Harp

"Stop Coddling Your Hi-Fi Set!" headlines the back jacket liner notes of this album recorded to three-track in Chicago's Orchestra Hall June 2 and 3, 1958 that from the first silly march track will blow your mind, if not your loudspeakers. You'll be left wondering where we've gone in the art and science of recording over the past fifty nine years—well until you listen to the other two records.

The spaciousness borders on cavernous, the perceived dynamics Atomic Age explosive and the arrangements mostly corny fun occupying the space between Ernie Kovacs and Mad Magazine, and not to be taken at all too seriously.

Side one has a march, a pair of exotica selections, trad-jazz, a polka and a few other non-serious selections. Side two opens with "Buck Dance" in which a pair of tap dancers heads off-stage, out of your living room and into your back yard neighbor's—and that's not an exaggeration.

Each track emphasizes a different aspect of stereophony with Dick Schory employing more than fifty percussion instruments including Celesta, Vibraphones, Xylophones, Marimba, Timpani "Chromatic Cowbells", eight Tom-Toms (four high, four low) and more cymbals, gongs and Temple Blocks than you can shake a stick at.

I'm not exaggerating about the sound quality: It's amazing nor am I overstating the "pure novelty" aspect of the arrangements. This is not "serious" music but it is serious fun and so 1950's kitschy that as time passes it becomes more treasured as a "moment in time" never to be repeated.

I have original and Classic Records reissues but more recently Analogue Productions has reissued this cut from the three-track original tape by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound.

Originals still go for well over a hundred dollars (I snagged one years ago at Record Surplus, Las Vegas for three bucks) so the new reissue, which I'm sure sounds great and is pressed on 200g vinyl at QRP, is reasonably priced.

Pulse works for percussion and strings

This is a more serious collection that's no less fun, but far more thought-provoking, particularly the moody pieces on side two, especially the title tune by Henry Cowell, which epitomizes for me 20th century cold war classical music that can often sound like the anxiety-ridden soundtrack to episodes of "The Twilight Zone".

The "humdinger" is side one's opener, the nearly ten minute long "Third Construction" by John Cage. As the extensive liner notes by Perry Goldstein suggest, Cage "...composed music about music, about the nature of sound and our prejudices about sound".

Cage's piece features some ungodly sounds created by rubbing and/or blowing into a conch shell that may have you jumping from your listening chair. The rest of the controlled chaos is equally ear-opening, teeth-gritting and percussively challenging, set within an enormous three-dimensional soundstage. When it's over you're likely to give out a big "wow!"

Side two's mostly string pieces well-reflect my feelings about this "unusual" period of time. Your feelings may differ.

Though the spacious sonics suggest a concert hall venue, this was recorded in RCA Studios, New York (later to be demolished to make way for an IRS office) and engineered by RCA classical music engineer Anthony Salvatore. Bob Ludwig cut lacquers at Masterdisk in New York City.

The New World label was an academic enterprise so the notes are well-written and informative and there's an extensive bibliography and discography on the back jacket. I preferred the sound of the original to the Classic Reissue cut by Bernie Grundman, but both will knock your socks off in a good way.

Smoke & Mirrors Percussion Ensemble

Smoke & Mirrors is another collection of "serious" (yet fun) works for percussion recorded in Zipper Hall, Los Angeles, June 7-10, 2011 and June 3-5, 2012. I think they had to wait a year to finish up after the first recording session in order for the hall reverberation to stop! This was recorded to analog tape using a single AKG C24 tube microphone and features the ensemble playing their own tunes plus one by Maurice Ravel.

The sonics here are spectacular, in some ways the best of the three records covered here, and presented at 45rpm because the 33 1/3 test pressing proved too difficult for most tone arms and cartridges to track. At 45rpm you should have no difficulty.

These performances were recorded live to tape with no editing by the seven members of Smoke & Mirrors. The power of their playing will immediately become evident upon the first drum "thwack" behind the hypnotic bell-toned overlay of the opener "Udacrep Akubrad" which is backwards for "Percadu Darbuka". Meaningless in both directions unless you know that "Percadu Darbuka" is a "machismo Israeli percussion duo, for which this piece was composed back in 2001. You'll immediately get the middle eastern vibe (that's a play on words).

The meaning of "Percadu Darbuka" is explained in the liner notes, which are as disorganized as the recorded sound is well-organized. The notes should but don't start with an introduction to the group Smoke & Mirrors, especially since the cover doesn't make clear if that's the album title or the name of the group! Nowhere in the notes are you told what each of the seven members plays, or anything about them. The label doesn't identify which side is which. Kind of messy. And I write that even though I'm generously quoted on the jacket directly after a description of the opening track (based on the test pressing I'd been sent).

No matter, the music does the talking and it's as invigorating as the recorded sound. "Juego de Relojas" ("Game of Clocks") is particularly light-hearted and even without the translation you'd get the idea.

The recording is superbly transparent and well-captures the hall's natural reverb. I can't imagine you won't thoroughly enjoy listening repeatedly to this record.

Unfortunately the two final production copies I was sent were among the worst Pallas pressings I've ever gotten. Both were eccentric and featured a warp in the middle of the record that not even vacuum hold down could tame, so before you order this make sure to ask if they've had this problem and find out what they've done about it, because if two copies have it, no doubt so do others.

If you want to support the arts, great modern day analog recording and an adventurous classical music label, here's a great opportunity. This recording has all of the attributes of the great recordings of the "golden age" of recording: spaciousness, image three-dimensionality, timbral and textural accuracy and wide dynamics. Crank it up and enjoy!

Crank up all three and receive triple the pleasure.

OldschoolE's picture

Now I have to add these to my want list. Look what you did! ha ha ha
I'll try to find them used first since I am not of the deep pocket crowd. Being a percussionist myself, these become must-haves. I'm also known for picking up bizarre used records when I find ones that look interesting, but I have no clue about. (Really fun).
I'm not one for marches, but the rest, I'm game.
I'm not worried about my speakers handling any of it. I run Paradigm Studio 100s v5. Not only super efficient, but somehow, go very low, lower than needed for music. I also don't like to play music real loud anyway even though, although my speakers can handle it without breaking a sweat.
Yup, you don't have to tell me twice about the arts now being an endangered species...scary times.

Michael Fremer's picture
I saw an original Pulse on the Amoeba website for $35....Analogue Productions has originals of "Bang Barroom...." but expensive...I"m going to post a selection from "Smoke & Mirrors" in the Technics SL-1200 review.
JohnEcc's picture

Just ordered "Smoke and Mirrors", another one of my favorites was The Sheffield Drum Record, recorded December 1980 Direct to Disc. Produced by Doug Sax and Bill Schnee.

OldschoolE's picture

It appears to be unobtainable. Discogs doesn't even recognize it.

Neward Thelman's picture

Soundstage Direct never heard of it. Search engine "NOT FOUND".

Music Direct never heard of it. Search engine "NOT FOUND".

Acoustic Sounds never heard of it. Search engine "NOT FOUND".

Amazon heard of it. OUT OF STOCK.


Where can "Smoke and Mirrors" be bought???????

JohnEcc's picture

I ordered it the night Michael put it up from Acoustic Sounds, had todo a title into search to find it, so unless they sold out it should still be there.

JohnEcc's picture

Have to put Smoke & Mirrors exactly in search engine.

Michael Fremer's picture
I believe you can buy it directly from Yarlung. The hyperlink is underlined in the story. I will be playing a track from the album on tomorrow's AnalogPlanet radio show
Neward Thelman's picture

You actually, really have to enter

Smoke & Mirrors

not spell out 'and'

Thanks, all.

palasr's picture

Don't overlook Mallets Melody & Mayhem - The Exciting Percussion World Of Saul Goodman on Columbia from 1960. Quite sonically stunning in its own right.

thomoz's picture

this one is serious music by Edgar Varese among others:

I carry this record with me to AXPONA and hi-fi shops around the South.

Michael Fremer's picture
Definitely doing a percussion show on AnalogPlanet radio, this Monday
chervokas's picture

This is not only and incredible sounding record recorded by Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz and mastered by Robert Ludwig, but it's also one of the best performances of "Ionisation" on record, and "Ionisation" is one of the major masterpiece of 20th century music. Definitely a record that sound be on any audiophile's list of must-have percussion records.

chervokas's picture

I'm seconding the recommendation of the Nonesuch H-71291 Percussion Music

Roy Martin's picture

...veers into rock territory don't forget The Paupers. Those guys could really, uh, percuss.

Steelhead's picture

Well not in print and I am pretty sure Mr. Fremer must own it as what does he not have.

It still excites and just jumps out of the speakers. A lot of fun and have enjoyed it for decades.

If you find it in a bin jump on it!!!!

dschian's picture

Okay, not all of these percussion recordings are readily available on vinyl- but otherwise there are some excellent digital recordings of them.

*The first part of the soundtrack to the film, Birdman, featuring work by Antonio Sanchez- on vinyl, but I haven't gotten the lp yet, just the cd

*Ionisation, by Varese- a short but true classic, which can be found on cd and, with enough looking, also still on vinyl, I'm sure. Varese's other well-known works may also appeal, but this one really stands out

*The Nose, by Shostakovich- an excellent early work by the composer- an opera, but a very unusual one, with some excellent percussion work. Also perhaps still available somewhere on vinyl, but the SACD release, conducted by Gergiev, is a sonically fabulous recording-

Check these out!

Bluejimbop's picture

Either have or know about this album:

Tico LP 1011, "Puente In Percussion", rec. 1956
Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Patato Valdez & Willie Bobo w/Bobby Rodriguez on bass. Not an everything but the kitchen sink session. Just four masters layin' it down.
Thanks for your tips, Michael. Eyes peeled.

Neward Thelman's picture

"...classical music that can often sound like the anxiety-ridden soundtrack to episodes of 'The Twilight Zone'.

Uh, I guess - if you're unfamiliar with and unused to trends in 20th century classical music. For those who are, the pieces on the "Pulse" record are nothing new - just routine exercizes in dodecaphony and/or atonality, and mild to moderate classical radicalism.

Nothing here is anything near some of the more extreme, insanely radical pieces that were spewed out by classical composers during the 20th century. If Cowell, or more likely, Ruth Crawford Seeger strikes Superman Mike Fremmer as “Twilight Zone anxiety”, he ought to try listening to some of Arnold Schoenberg's music - the father of all of this - who's pieces pre-dated all of those presented here by more than a quarter century. Start with Pierrot Lunaire [1912] - your simple-assed I-IV-V rock mind deserves it.

OTOH, from a typical rocker's point of view, this music presents a considerable challenge. Before even assessing such difficulties for a rocker as a lack of a tonal center and piles of dissonance, there's the sheer unfamiliarity of it all, as noted by Super Fremer above.

Indeed, if the average listener is likely to have encountered any hint of this stuff at all, it would've been from television programs and movies in which atonality, etc. had been employed. But, since John Williams demonstrated the superiority of tonality and a rich orchestral palette, the "anxiety ridden", dissonant stuff's pretty much disappeared from the movies and television, outside of moments calling for such “special treatment and effects'.

All of this brings up three important points. Well, two important points, and one, uh, other point:

1. Hand-ringing, anxiety-ridden classical music concert producers continue to make the ultra moronic error that they can draw a new, young audience to classical concerts by presenting them with "modern music". So, they give Gen-X-Y-Z-Millenials some hideously wacked-out radicalist dissonant piece of trash to hear - and then ring their idiot hands even more when everyone - young, old, living or dead - stays away.

2. As I'd explained in a previous reply on this site, listeners today are severely handicapped and ignorance-stricken musically. They really are. Super Fremer's remarks simply supply more evidence of that [as if any more were needed]. The fact – and I don't use the word inconsiderably – is that today's listeners simply cannot understand anything – anything – outside of the simplest forms of popular music at all. The average listener just doesn't “get” classical music – or jazz, or anything – outside the sphere of drum-thumping pop-rock, and the reasons for the situation is the lack of music education in schools.

Of course, my previous comments made this same exact point – and every single rocker failed to understand it – utterly.

3. Super Fremer's "anxiety-ridden soundtrack" reaction's coming from a guy who boasted about having season tickets to the NY Phil. Amazing. Well, as I said before, he's paying a lot of money for a place to go and take a nap.

Ike Carumba's picture

who's pieces pre-dated all of those presented here by more than a quarter century.

Uh, 'who's' is a contraction of 'who and is' - you should have typed whose.


Neward Thelman's picture

It's due to all fast [and bad] typing in my case.

Of course, it should've read 'whose'.

I seriously deplore bad grammar, the daily abuses to and of our language, and the completely unconcerned attitude towards that state of affairs by pretty much everyone.

Among the worse and most widespread is the habit people have of sticking a new sentence into an incomplete sentence when asking a question. For example:

"When the new president takes office we need to know what are the limits of his authority"

-rather than the correct form -

"When the new president takes office we need to know what the limits of his authority are".

I first heard those specific abuses occurring in speech back in the late 90's.

Relatively recent developments in pronunciation abuses really irk me. The word 'important' is being pronounced as 'impordent'. Many pronounce 'especially' as 'exspecially'.

I've even heard NPR reporters says 'eXspecially' on the air, and many of them routinely say 'imporDent'. For that, and many other shortcomings, I no longer financially support NPR.

As for you, Ay Carramba, arriba arriba, andale andale - have the courage to use a name for yourself on the internet, rather than some irritatingly juvenile sobriquet. Oye, padron?

Ike Carumba's picture

You have insulted the Noble House of Carumba! Have a care Sir, lest I dispatch my faithful manservant Percy to give you a sound thrashing about the neck and shoulders!

Neward Thelman's picture

Upon reflection, I was far too harsh on Mr. Fremer. Actually, Mr. Fremer's provided a very accurate description of the music on the Pulse disc. Some of it is indeed, Twilight Zone Anxiety Music. He's actually done everyone a favor with a precise description.

Twilight Zone Anxiety Music describes to a "T" the whole lot of the miserable dodecaphonic crap they've churned out - and which some of the more insulated classical jokers continue to churn out.

If Mike Fremer has no objections, I'm going to adopt that phrase for further discourse on music topics.

So, it's time to say thank you, Michael Fremer.

bdp24's picture

Another title worth checking out is Percussion Music (Nonesuch 79150), with contains music by 20th Century Avant-garde composers. The LP was mastered by Robert Ludwig.

bdp24's picture
bdp24's picture

Another title worth checking out is Percussion Music (Nonesuch 79150), with contains music by 20th Century Avant-garde composers. The LP was mastered by Robert Ludwig.

bdp24's picture

When I hit the post button, the site said it was unavailable, to try again. I didn't but the above was posted three times!

ViciAudio's picture

... some Steve Reich Music For 18 Musicians, both original 70's ECM recording and the latest 1998 re-recording released on 2LP by Nonesuch in 2015. Not the same level of incredible sonics as the great recommendations on your article, but the music is quite impressive. :)

elmore244's picture

I'm so happy to have found this website. First off, I am a reformed "hater". I used to think that listening to vinyl was a waste of time and was happy with my hi-rez FLAC files. But, then I was at a friends and he had me sit and listen to U2 The Joshua Tree on vinyl on his Rega RP1 and a pair of B&W speakers (I don't remember the model number). It really caught my attention. Now, a year later I have purchased a Music Hall MMF 2.2 at a close out price and a pair of Elac Debut F5 loudspeakers. I love it! I know this equipment doesn't compare to what many of you have, but it's a start for me. I have been purchasing vinyl like a maniac! My most recent purchase was a very clean copy of David Brubeck's Time In immaculate condition and I am truly enjoying listening to it. I still love to listen to my FLAC files with this same system (sans the turntable), but there is something about putting the album on the turntable, lowering the needle and sitting down to listen to heaven! I would love to purchase a really nice integrated amp or amp + preamp that will go with my TT and speakers. Any suggestions? I'm probably in the $1500 - $2000 range. I know that's not much, but that's all I can afford now. Thank you all for allowing me to rediscover vinyl magic!

Walt33's picture

In the sonic spectacular percussion department, the RCA release next-numbered after Bang Baaroom, but less easily found, deserves mention. It is Alec Templeton, Music Boxes and Chiming Clocks, LSP 1867.

sooneroutlaw's picture

Cool stuff! I would recommend the addition of Planet Drum by Micky Hart to the list...

Bob Attiyeh's picture

Michael's review has only been posted for a few days, and it is wonderful to see such an animated discussion already. It is a terrific honor for Yarlung Records, and for Smoke & Mirrors percussion ensemble, to be included in these "Top 3."

I had never heard the "Pulse" recording until Michael turned me onto it some months ago. Many thanks again.

We very much appreciate Michael's review, as well as his comments about the problems with the pressing we sent to him. Vinyl is a squishy substance, yes, but we nonetheless want it to be as perfect as possible. I've been personally checking the copies that go out from the Yarlung Records website, and so far we haven't found more that are warped or eccentric. We shall stay vigilant!

Amazon has a link here:

I see that Amazon is currently awaiting more copies, perhaps as a result of this fabulous Analog Planet review.

If you choose to order directly from Yarlung, we'll be sure to check that the pressing is round and flat! The page for our vinyl is here, and "Smoke & Mirrors" is on the first page:

Many thanks, percussion lovers. Enjoy!

Bob Attiyeh, producer
Yarlung Records

ViciAudio's picture

... thanks for the great Yarlung LP's! I actually found them just a few weeks ago and fell in love with the music and sound. I will have these LP's available soon in my vinyl only store in Portugal/Europe! Thanks and keep up the great work! :)

Bob Attiyeh's picture

Thank you! It is great to know we have important vinyl audio enthusiasts in Portugal. A country with so much fabulous music. Thanks! Bob

Steelhead's picture

Purchased Ciaramella Dances after being reviewed on this site.

It was a very gratifying purchase and the vinyl is superb. Dead quiet, a wonderful pressing and the recording was masterful. A great spin.

I would (will) buy from Yarlung again after this purchase.

Bob Attiyeh's picture

Dear Steelhead,

Your moniker indicates you have a superb vinyl playback system indeed! I assume you're listening through the Manley Steelhead phonostage? That, along with the Messenger by Elliot Midwood, is my phonostage of choice.

I'm glad you're enjoying Ciaramella Dances. It was Elliot Midwood who served as executive producer for this album. (And it was from Elliot that I bought my Steelhead many years ago!). A happy small world.

Best wishes and happy listening,


ctbarker32's picture


You definitely need to add this one to your list. You probably already own it but have forgotten about it?


Rudy's picture

I picked up Bang, Baaroom & Harp last year and I totally agree there is some cornball fun happening on this record, and is a great demo piece. From what I saw in the insert in the LP, it was supposed to be "...coming soon on 45 RPM." Maybe it did not sell enough to warrant pressing it at that speed? It is a rather fringe musical taste.

aztecgrad63's picture

This is a great record if you can find the 6 eye pressing. I finally got one from Irvington Music in Oregon.
Listed on HP's list.

JaniceSweet's picture

Yea, very true. Price is so reasonable. Everyone should join this music consort. Please also visit my website at : Outsource QA

daveming3's picture

Tito Puente's "Top Percussion" (RCA Living Stereo) needs to be mentioned (so I'm mentioning it).

This is not your typical Tito mambo record. Side 1 is all traditional Afro-Cuban (Santeria-based) singing & percussion. Side 2 is all instrumental percussion & upright bass and both sides smoke! The record is legendary amongst players of afro-Cuban music. The sound is powerful & dynamic, to say the least.

I got my first gig (as an upright bass player) 5 days after moving to NYC in 1980. It was with "afro-Cuban/modern jazz" group. Thank goodness I had been playing to the copy of Top Percussion that I had found at my local Salvation Army a few years earlier. At least I made it thru the gig.

scirica's picture

...Smoke & Mirrors based on this review. I'm re-listening to quite a few of my favorite recordings today after upgrading my VPI Aries 3D arm to the 3DR and installing the dual pivot mod.

Happy days!