A staggered release plan has kept Hong Kong’s Sea Island & Ferry in the public eye (and ear) all year. As If was released as a pair of EPs a few months apart, and is now packaged together as a single album.
The quartet (piano, violin, cello and clarinet) offers a languid style of modern composition that is slightly informed by jazz. Despite the dark cover, it’s a bright recording, implying waves reflected in the moonlight. The playfulness of “See-Saw,” including stereo effects that match its title, lets the listeners know that while the players are serious, they are also having fun. One can imagine the piece being used in a fantastical sort of animated movie, akin to the classic “Fantasia.”
The conversation and traffic whistle of “Clockwork” imply that one may have arrived at the ferry, while the ticking percussion hints of the beauty of precision. The flights of clarinet and strings testify that the individual need not disappear, even when working in tandem. At the end, the echoes of a solitary walker. The descending scales of “Contemplate,” chased by a complete stop, urge the listener to pause, to reflect, perhaps to pray. “Visitors” is stately, as if reenacting the procession of royalty.
And then there is Side B, or EP2, or the middle of the album, depending on one’s format: vinyl, disc or digital. To some, the listening experience may be fractured; to others, a constant flow. However one chooses to listen, the distinction is immediate, as “Call” begins with solo voice, building to the harmonic, and then to the instrumental. This is a soothing touch, akin to a reassurance. The twin pieces “Blossom” and “Mortals” imply the transitory lives of flora and fauna. The tonal shift at the end of “Blossoms” is particularly ebullient. After these lessons are shared, the album begins to tilt toward “Way Home,” whether home is considered a place or a state of mind. Solo clarinet mirrors the solo voice at the beginning of the side, this time joined first by piano, then the full quartet. We are not meant to travel this road alone. In an interesting twist, the opening “Call” also leads to the closing “Recall,” a piece of verbal acuity that may be unique to the English translation, but that suggests the cycles of life. The ferry sets out from the island; the ferry returns. All is well. (Richard Allen)