Claire Ritter's tenth album, The Stream Of Pearls Project, is inspired by water. More accurately, it's inspired by waters: rivers, lakes, brooks, ponds, cascades and their attendant beaches and shorelines. Ritter began the work in 2006 and over the next four years her travels took her to many different places across North America. The result is a beautifully crafted album, with an unusual instrumental lineup that Ritter uses with great ingenuity.
Taken individually each of the tunes is fairly brief, with over half of them clocking in at less than three minutes. However, Ritter also divides the work into two "opus variations:" North American Watercolors (tracks 1-10) and Outer Banks Crystal Scores (tracks 11-18), lending the work a greater cohesiveness.
The tunes are divided between solo piano tunes and ensemble numbers. The solo tunes are exquisite, Ritter's deft touch as a writer as well as a player creates some lovely, melodic moments. "Valse of the Ponds" has a quiet calm reminiscent of Eric Satie's compositions, "The Beauty of its Stillness, Overflowed Me Like a Tide" is grander, more majestic.
Ritter's solo pieces have a contemplative beauty, but it's the ensemble numbers that grab the attention and leave a lasting impression. This is especially true of those that feature the accordions of Toni Naples and Rick Hansen or Ashima Scripp's cello. Some of these also have a strong classical sound"Swiftly Winding" is a beautiful combination of piano, cello and Takaaki Masuko's vibrant percussion. Others, as their titles betray, take their inspirations from mambo, calypso and other forms. It's these tunes that bring a real sense of fun to the album.
"Wild Ponies Run Free" is a bright, angular tune that was apparently inspired by horses on Currituck Beach but which also sounds like a very close relative of "Jeepers Creepers." Richie Stearns adds banjo to Hansen and Naples' accordions on "Island Jingle, Dancing With My Heart" and the result is a delightful mix of European and Appalachian folk. "Under the Moonrise" melds a lyrical piano melody with a shuffle beat and a languid accordion to evoke a late night tryst between lovers.
The Stream Of Pearls Project represents another strand in Ritter's varied musical career. Like the water that gives its inspiration to this work, Ritter is not happy to simply stand still and let the movement go on around her. Her searches across the waterways of North America are richly rewarded by the resulting music.
The Beauty of its Stillness, Overflowed Me Like a Tide; Bolero On The Charles; Swiftly Winding; Blue Ridge in Watercolor; Stream of Pearls; Across the Gorge; The Brook, The Bird, & I; Catfish Shuffle; Valse of the Ponds; Fortuity; Under the Moonrise; Skydune Mambo; Ballade of the Flight; Wild Ponies Run Free; Sailing Pamlico; Mustang Calypso; Along the Banks; Island Jingle, Dancing With My Heart.
Claire Ritter: piano; Ashima Scripp: cello; Toni Naples: accordion; Rick Hansen: accordion; Richie Stearns: banjo; Jon Metzger: vibes; Takaaki Masuko: drums, percussion.