Maxwell August Croy and Sean McCann: “I”
Sean McCann was the recipient of justifiable acclaim for his 2013 modern composition recording Music for Private Ensemble, but this debut full-length collaboration with Maxwell August Croy strikes me as even more satisfying. Composed and recorded in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the thirty-seven-minute collection fulfills its presumed goals splendidly. The style of the material would seem to be in line with the kind of music Croy creates as one-half of the Bay Area duo EN, which sees him processing koto, voice, and other instrumentation into drone-based compositions.
There's an appealingly unassuming vibe about the recording, with ambient noises audible before a piece commences and even sometimes during its quieter moments. But once the music starts, the two are all business. The opening “Parting Light (Suite)” inaugurates the release with cyclic flurries of koto, cello, and violin patterns intricately weaving together to hypnotic effect. Hints of Classical Minimalism are suggested by the repetitive patterns, though the impression is camouflaged by the rustic naturalism of the acoustic instruments' sounds. It truly is a suite, by the way, as the opening section abruptly gives way to a sparsely arranged middle episode where the plucks of Croy's koto are rendered more conspicuous, before the dense weave of the opening is reinstated for the close.
It's the second piece, “Alexandria,” that is the recording's greatest accomplishment, however. As beautiful and majestic a drone as one might hope to encounter, the nine-minute setting achieves a kind of celestial grandeur in the sunblinded quality of its shimmering haze. Thick, electrified sheets of sound extend languorously in slow motion, with the result a quietly exultant cloud mass of immense scope—the kind of extraordinary music one would like to see carry on without end. Something undeniably soul-stirring occurs when drones are generated using acoustic means, and that's definitely what happens here.
Such an incredible piece of music can't help but overshadow the four tracks that follow, all of which are strong in their own right but not at the level of “Alexandria.” An appealingly rustic, outdoorsy quality pervades “Momjii,” especially when lilting plucks are deployed to rhythmically augment keening violin strokes, but the one that comes closest to equaling “Alexandria” is “The Inlet Arc,” an expertly executed dreamscape that in its own quietly stirring way is powerful, too. Ultimately, though, too much shouldn't be made of the fact that one piece stand outs from the others. The recording as a whole is special indeed, and one that amply rewards repeat visits.