Album Review: Paddle to the Sea

June 30, 2018
by Graham Rickson

This is an enormously enjoyable album…the best percussion disc I’ve heard in ages.”

Musical material which might in some circumstances seem naïve or simplistic rarely does so when scored for percussion. Take a work like Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood – who’d have imagined that the thwacking of different sized sticks could sound so cool? Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion have already recorded an impressive Reich CD, but this new one is based around something different. Paddle to the Sea is a suite composed collaboratively by the group’s players, designed to accompany showings of a 1966 film adaptation of an iconic children’s book about a toy canoe travelling from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a substantial, 33 minute work, a parade of enchanting watery vignettes. The pace ebbs and flows to match the watercourses traversed by the canoe, the mood veering between serenity and agitation. It’s enchanting, though would have been better still had there been a way to include the film as part of the package. I’ll search for it on YouTube.

Third Coast Percussion admit that their score allowed them “to pay homage to some artists that we admire”, and works by said influences are included as couplings. Philip Glass’s 12 Pieces for Ballet were arranged by a Brazilian ensemble and became Aguas da Amazonia. Four of them were adapted further by Third Coast, each named after the Amazon and three of its tributaries. Whereas Glass’s extended works often outstay their welcome, these four little pieces delight. Interspersed with the Glass are the six movements of Jacob Druckman’s epic solo marimba opus, Reflections on the Nature of Water, the playing duties shared between the group. Plus a transcription of a Zimbabwean melody, the original’s thumb piano textures now heard on marimba, shakers and vocals. This is an enormously enjoyable album – attractively designed and well-annotated. Cedille’s engineering is rich and vivid – this is the best percussion disc I’ve heard in ages.

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