The first team-up for these noteworthy musicians, I is a lovely and original-sounding release. Last year, Sean McCann‘s Music for Private Ensemble made a big splash around these parts, as the artist performed every part himself. We were hoping to hear a collaboration, for the simple reason that it takes a lot of pressure off McCann. He’s chosen a wonderful partner in Maxwell August Croy (En), due to the latter’s expertise in koto, one of the few instruments not present on Ensemble. When joined with traditional stringed instruments (violin, cello), the koto makes a unique timbral difference.
Because these instruments are often mulched and layered, comparisons have been made to the work of Richard Skelton. These comparisons are apt wherever the tones are smeared; “Alexandria” adheres closest to this form. But Croy and McCann are not content to remain within the confines of a single genre. “The Inlet Arc” offers a low, filtered-light ambience, with greater brightness seeping into its recessed edges. “Column of Mirrors” is a series of extended tones, a nod to the drone work of each individual artist. “Momiji” and “Hollow Pursuit” install the strings in the background like blinds, covered by a curtain of koto: the crystalline and the filigreed, creating a shadowbox of light.
For pure, unadulterated beauty, the aforementioned “Alexandria” is the go-to piece: nine minutes of slowly swirling, prismatic color, gradually falling into focus. But for overall impact, “Parting Lights (Suite)” is the album’s stunner, a combination of every shining element. The moment in which the strings surge forth for the first time (2:02) is the album’s finest, a display of power and grace. When the koto takes over at 4:40, all other instruments retreat, a show of respect underlining the mutual respect of the performers. This collaboration deserves to continue; we hope this is the blueprint for future collaborations. (Richard Allen)