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A Vibraphone Workout With A Tinfoil Twist

Doug Perkins performs "Filigree," part of a longer work by composer Robert Honstein.

Call it a percussionist’s answer to Flight of the Bumblebee — with a twist. “Filigree,” by composer Robert Honstein, is a rapid-fire workout for solo vibraphone. The instrument’s bars, however, are partly covered in tinfoil, which adds a unique layer of color to the music.

The opening passages stick to the unadorned bars in the vibraphone’s upper range, played with laser focus by percussionist Doug Perkins. Then the music drops into the lower frequencies — tinfoil territory — and the texture shifts. The foil adds sizzle to the instrument’s sound that’s a bit like a jazz drummer’s ride cymbal.

“Filigree” is the two-minute opening section to An Economy of Means, featured on Honstein’s new album of the same name. At other points in the piece, Perkins draws a violin bow across the vibraphone bars to play dreamy chords. He lays a manila folder on the instrument, and suddenly it packs the punch of a snare drum or woodblock. It’s a surprisingly rich sonic romp that unfolds over a half-hour.

As music videos go, this one is pretty spartan: a crack musician performs in a well-lit, open space. Then again, watching Perkins tear through the lightning-quick music in “Filigree” without breaking a sweat is dazzling on its own.

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