Percussionist Kevin Norton tries humbly to sidestep his role as the party responsible for this fine trio session. He says in the notes that though he is the leader, "it is really about three equal voices, three improvising musicians." True by definition in open improv settings, even if the players aren't always as well matched as they are here. The disc is released on Norton's Barking Hoop and he wrote the liner notes (a sentence was contributed each by bassist Joelle Leandre and cellist Tomas Ulrich). And he calls the proceedings together with a quick snare roll. So credit where it's due. This recording might not have happened, or might not be commercially available, if not for the leader, which would have been a shame.
Norton has been releasing a string of recordings as a leader lately, from some great composed pieces on Barking Hoop to some jazzy free improv discs, primarily on CIMP. Ocean of Earth falls somewhere between the two. With only strings and light percussion (not just drums but vibes, marimba and "homemade and store-bought percussion"), the disc carries a feeling of composed music. Perhaps that's due to the lack of horns and a naive sentiment that strings imply scores, or perhaps it's just the mere calibre of the string players here. Either way (or likely both), they grab hold of mood and nuance, state their piece and quickly move on in these thirty brief vignettes (only three of which break the four-minute mark). Leandre and Ulrich play opposite sides of the fence, rarely joining forces for the strength of tandem strings. They skirt and hint, often putting Norton in the middle to encapsulate the little scenes. Along the way, Norton duets with each and plays on pieces solo (the strings also share a duet).
Some of the titles came from Guillame Appolinaire's poetry and are intended, according to the notes, to reflect the joy of their meeting. Others have a mournful ring. Again from Norton's notes: "The call to arms was on our minds. Though this was intended to be a pure musical project ... we can't ignore what has happened in this time period. Even with the largest worldwide coordinated demonstration ever against the invasion of Iraq, the arrogant Bush and Blair administrations went ahead with the war. How sad, how status quo: business as usual." Given that, some of the pieces are pure lament. "Edye" is a gorgeous wail, and "Trio for the End of Time" is no doubt meant to evoke Olivier Messian's brilliant World War II era piece Quartet for the End of Time, not just in title but in its ringing percussion and sobbing melodies. Ocean of Earth is not an album of anger, however. It's more of the beauty in sadness.
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