This is an ambitious — and accompished! — project directed by Québécois percussionist & composer Danielle Palardy Roger leading three different ensembles: AM all-star Ensemble SuperMusique (with Derome, Hétu, Tanguay, Côté, Falaise), GGRIL (Grande Group Regional D’Improvisation Liberee) and ECM+ (Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal). The ‘Pinta, Nina & (Santa) Maria’ of the title refers to the three boats that sailed to the Americas in 1492 to explore the new world. Like each of three boats, each of these ensembles is very different in terms of personnel, instrumentation and direction. Although most of the 23 pieces that make up this three part suite are pretty short, there is a thread the runs through the entire work and each of the suites is continuous.
La Pinta is performed by GGRIL, a 13-piece ensemble whose instrumentation includes accordions, brass, strings, guitars, dobro, radio, el. bass and percussion. This is a suspense-filled landscape of shifting strings, thoughtful brass, careful guitar feedback fragments, eerie static and organic percussion. The music is both fascinating and somewhat disorienting. There is one section where the members shout out “Hey!” apart and together, adding some exclamatory punctuation to the proceeding, which erupts throughout this disc.
La Nina is performed by Ensemble SuperMusique, a longtime AM all-star unit which includes Jean Derome, Joane Hetu and Bernard Falaise. ESM are masters of the focused improv idiom and thus their suite is rich and filled with nuance, as well as some selective noise. Distant seasick melodies float on top of waves of shifting currents. I love the way that segments of somewhat familiar songs magically emerge and submerge within the flow. The Santa Maria (or “Who Knows”) is performed by ECM+, a fourteen piece ensemble with reeds, brass, strings & percussion with featured soloists Diane Labrosse on sampler and Michel F Cote on electronic percussion. Commencing with an excerpt from Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, Labrosse and Cote add selective sonic spice to the occasionally somber, enchanting strings and brass. In many ways, this is a masterwork of successful cosmic strands that have been knitted into brilliant tapestry. Don’t pass this one up, please.