“Steel yourself for his mallets of musical mastery”. So runs the spruik in the liner notes of Nick Parnell’s self-published album Vibes Virtuoso. This is no idle boast. Adelaide percussionist Parnell knows his way round the three octaves of metal keys and sustain pedal and his mission is to put this instrument centre stage.
Born in the Flinders Ranges town of Orroroo, Parnell taught himself drums in his parents’ sheep shearing shed before studying at Elder Conservatorium.
This is his third album, the previous two were under the ABC Classics label, and it covers some familiar classics mixed up with George Gershwin and bravura pieces like Josef Suk’s Burleska No 4 and Vittorio Monti’s Csardas. Parnell’s spectacular playing is matched by his excellent accompanist, Amir Farid. The duo have great musical understanding and chemistry, and while they never quite reach the heights of those two great jazz improvisors Gary Burton and Chick Corea, they are impressive nevertheless.
The instrument’s limited expressive range works better for some works. Two of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and excerpts from Gershwin’s American in Paris all transpose well. Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso and Debussy’s Reverie fall short. This won’t be to everybody’s taste – some may think of it as ringtone music – but at the very least it shows that Parnell has come a hell of a long way from banging a drum in a shearing shed.
Vibes Virtuoso is available for download from Nick Parnell’s website.