On paper, the two pieces comprising A Far Cry’s new album, "The Law of Mosaics," sound about as appealing as a Mel-Gibson-themed needlepoint convention: 1) a composer’s Rome travelogue, 2) a deconstruction of classical music’s greatest hits. If you are still reading this, prepare to claim your reward, because the composers in question are sonic trespassers Andrew Norman and Ted Hearne, and coupled with dextrous performances by the enterprising, Boston-based string orchestra, "The Law of Mosaics" is an aural View-Master worth peering through.
First up is Norman’s Companion Guide to Rome, an eight-movement string trio launched with frenzied layers of glissandi. The experience is disorienting, not unlike a jet-lagged stumble through the narrow streets of an unfamiliar city. In less than a minute, the listener is transported into movement two, “Benedetto,” in which resonant puffs of rising, flute-like lines expose the height of the space. Here, and throughout the architecturally-inspired Companion Guide, Norman evocatively delineates the contours of individual interiors–and the wonder that accompanies such first impressions– through cyclic motives, lofty harmonics and consonant chords that wander in and out of focus. Of particular note is violist Jason Fisher’s solo entry, “Susanna,” which shivers and stutters like dried leaves at the steps of a secluded chapel.
A preternaturally talented aural cannibal, Ted Hearne dines on Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and, of course, Companion Guide to Rome among others for his half of the album. It is A Far Cry’s deft timbral manipulations and Hearne’s lack of irony that invite seventh and eighth listens. While we will admit cracking a grin with the appearance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in the second movement, “Palindrome for Andrew Norman,” the thrust here is not the proverbial wink-wink, but an ecstatic, virtuosic savoring of the canon. Like shaking a bin of Legos, a coveted piece that has been there all along suddenly materializes at the top of the heap.
While the heavy dose of reverb applied to Hearne’s work may at first throw some listeners for a loop (as it keeps the players at a distance), the device seems intentional upon further passes. Like a mosaic, a close inspection is intriguing, but the real fascination is found a few steps back.
- Doyle Amrbust