Album review: Paddle to the Sea

April 3, 2018
by David Hurwitz

“…astonishing precision and sensitivity…”

“…the performances are amazing…the engineering is perfect…”

Today’s percussionists are amazing virtuosos, and the members of Third Coast Percussion play with astonishing precision and sensitivity throughout this intelligently planned recital built around the theme of “water” in many of its forms. There are two major works, the most important of which is Jacob Druckman’s amazing marimba solo “Reflections on the Nature of Water.” Its six movements are broken into pairs and spread throughout the disc. As the idiom is strongly atonal, it makes a refreshing contrast to the mellow harmonic syntax of the remaining pieces.

The other major work is Third Coast Percussion’s original film score Paddle to the Sea. The movements have evocative titles, some presumably taken from the images to which they correspond: “The Lighthouse and the Cabin,” “Open Water,” “Niagara,” “The Locks,” etc. Other bits are simply evocative and more impressionistic: “Flow,” “Thaw,” “Sanctuary,” “Release.” The entire work plays for about thirty-five minutes, and despite the considerable skill that obviously went into its crafting, it doesn’t seem to have much musical substance. It sounds like background, and presumably suits its purpose admirably, but you may well feel differently.

Also interspersed with the other items are four superbly made transcriptions from Philip Glass’s score to Aguas da Amazonia, easy on the ear and magnificently played. The last of them, “Amazon River,” brings the program to a satisfying conclusion. Finally, the players toss in a Zimbabwean song of the Shona people, “Chigwaya,” supposedly used to call water spirits. It’s charming, but also musically ephemeral. It would have been interesting to hear the song used as the basis for something more extended in form.

The bottom line here is that the performances are amazing, the music of variable quality but never gratuitously difficult or off-putting, and the engineering is perfect. You make the call.


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