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Inspired by Water

Here we have a timeless theme that has been providing inspiration for artists as long as people have made art. It's easy to see why water is a perennial subject, and for something so endlessly changeable, it's no surprise that these works could hardly be more different.

Fergus McCreadie Trio
Edition Records

If the historical lineage of jazz is a series of classy figures dressed sharply for a night at the club, the Fergus McCreadie Trio is the mischievous sibling that's always sneaking out to play in the wild and straggling in with green knees and muddy boots. This piano trio has always had something elemental about it—maybe not primal, but with a certain happy chaotic streak that comes directly from nature. We can credit their traditional roots, which place the jazzy elements in the resonant context of timeless folk. Even if their technical prowess is as refined as any other professional outfit's, it would really lose something if the sound were to become too civilized.

Instead, after their first two Edition Records outings, which made a figurative nature romp through the Scottish countryside, Stream dive straight into the rapids. The trio begins by portraying an eponymous "Storm" from the first warning rumbles through to a brisk roar and equally sudden subsidence. If a mere few minutes feels brisk for a storm, the mini-epic "The Crossing" immediately goes from that prologue into a twelve-minute mini-movie with a cinematic degree of roiling and crashing.

McCreadie's capering across the keys is joyous as ever while his bandmates' terrific synchronicity ensures they never miss a step. "Snowcap" chimes somewhere between dance reel and classical waltz; the jaunty "Sun Pillars" skips like spots of sunlight reflecting off the waves. The initial storminess gradually gives way to a sunny calm by the time it all winds down, though even the quietest spots have an irrepressible playfulness bubbling underneath. It seems this trio's innate natural wildness just refuses to subside entirely. Let's hope it never does.

Cort Lunde
Sounds for Earthly Survival

Cort Lunde is not an easy outfit to describe by any means, but for a start, just consider that they're equally inspired by art and algae. One main theme is "investigat[ing] how people, nature and technology can coexist in harmony," and this semi-avant-garde duo illustrates it by existing in several sonic realms at once. Their aural palette blends horns and reeds with electronic rhythms and nature sounds. The instruments provide a steady flow of quiet melodies and slow drones, spruced up with a chittering undercurrent of light beats that turn out to be a combination of hand percussion and oyster shells. The production itself simply sounds "aquatic" with field recordings of lake and sea blended into the mix.

Hydrophilia is always floating between these different zones. An arrangement for a trio of woodwinds is accompanied by a hazy ambiance and the odd snippet of spoken poetry. The mode is floaty and mostly formless, though usually with some kind of pulse somewhere. When the recording closes with a pair of free improvisations, the horns coast at their most breezy and organic while the beats go fully electronic. Without needing to have a taste for the avant-garde, one can simply take in the dreamlike scape as if floating several fathoms under the surface. The duo's main goal is a success: this is a blend from everywhere that's impossible to pin down anywhere.

Stephan Crump
Slow Water
Papillon Sounds

Rather than imitating or evoking the behavior of water, Stephan Crump takes it more as a philosophical inspiration. He considers water's place in the planet's vast history, the ways humanity relates to (and mistreats) a substance it depends on, and how the earth and its elements exist on a timescale that dwarfs our own. Heady stuff, but his compositions here impressively manage to reflect that scale and patience. The pieces of Slow Water make up a suite that drifts as if willing to take all the time in the world.

While Crump's suite is not exactly a difficult listen, it's not exactly easy either. He works with a deceptively simple sextet (two horns, two strings, vibes and his own upright bass in the center) and arranges patterns that go out of their way to avoid imposing much order. This music has no figurative roiling or splashing; even the flowing usually happens at the pace of a creek in winter. The group shows the same care and focus, gliding where the mood takes them with exceptional patience. This is one that will never try to grab attention, but your mind has to try and adapt to that wider scale of nature instead, and just might come out the other side better off for it.

Tracks and Personnel

Tracks: Storm; The Crossing; Driftwood; Snowcap; Sun Pillars; Mountain Stream; Stony Gate; Lochan Coire Àrdair; Coastline.

Personnel: Fergus McCreadie: piano; David Bowden: bass; Stephen Henderson: drums.

Tracks: Blæretang pt.1; Blæretang Interlude; Blæretang pt. 2; Faun & Nymfe; Glaciem; Hydrophilia.

Personnel: Erik Lunde: trumpet, flugelhorn, synthesizer; Thomas Cortes: contrabass, electric bass, sampler; Federico Fiovanti: percussion; Charlotte Fich: vocal; Tekla Nilson: clarinet.

Slow Water
Tracks: Sound (Brackish); Bogged; Strata; Eager; Hyporheic; Dusk Critters; Accrete; Mire; Pneumatophore; Euphotic; Fen; Pooling; Sediment and Flow; Outflow; Meiofauna.

Personnel: Stephan Crump: bass; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone; Joanna Mattrey: viola; yuniya edi kwon: violin; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Kenny Warren: trumpet.

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