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Album Review: Open Space EP
Ryan Marvel and The Outlaw Ocean Music Project
Cover image of the album Open Space EP by Ryan Marvel and The Outlaw Ocean Music Project
Open Space EP
Ryan Marvel and The Outlaw Ocean Music Project
2021 / Synesthesia Media
18 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Ryan Marvel is one of the most expressive and deeply-affecting pianist/composers in today's instrumental music world. His 2017 album, Reflecting Forward, and his 2019 album, Generous Night Redeem, were both awarded Album of the Year by Whisperings Solo Piano Radio. Obviously very affected by Ian Urbina's book, The Outlaw Ocean, (I was, too!), Open Space is Ryan's intense and very beautiful five-song EP in The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, a series of albums from several hundred artists and musicians from around the world who composed and recorded music reflecting their feelings and reactions to the book. The book itself tells many extraordinary and often heart-breaking stories about the crimes and other travesties that occur on the world's oceans on a daily basis.

For several of the five pieces on Open Space, Ryan Marvel uses a technique where one of his hands rests on the strings of the piano while the other hand plays the keys, creating a fascinating effect that is softly percussive and slightly otherworldly. Some of the tracks have keyboard effects and field recordings from Ian Urbain's travels to report on and write about his experiences over a period of four years spent mostly at sea.

In Ryan's own words: "The experience of reading The Outlaw Ocean was incredibly eye-opening. Having vacationed on the Texas and California coasts, I’ve always been inspired by the sea’s musical rhythm and its raw power....This book truly revealed to me the level of lawlessness in international waters, and how humans are involved in that web....Journalism and projects like this bring more awareness to social and environmental justice issues through an innovative artistic lens. It literally opens eyes and ears to those it may not otherwise reach. All of my music is typically composed out of my own personal experiences. Creating songs that emulate the experiences and emotions of others brought a new layer of depth to the music-making process for me that I greatly enjoyed."

Open Space begins with "This Clean Planet," which has passages played with and without one hand on the piano strings. Sounds of the ocean are added to tell a more complete story. "Deep Blue Wonder" blends the contrasting sounds of a beautiful solo piano melody played over a lively rhythmic pattern played with one hand on the piano strings. Atmospheric background sounds create a mysterious and chilly backdrop that works beautifully with the music. "Deeply Personal" includes a recording of Ian Urbina describing the experience of sitting for hours staring at the sea and how inner voices come to the surface, creating an intense internal dialogue. Ryan plays a somber but very effective rolling chord progression behind and around the words. "Attempt To Flee" cranks up the intensity as well as the tempo, playing with the strings of the piano somewhat muted and adding unexpected gun-like percussive sounds that punctuate the piece as they signal danger. "Cetacean" is a gorgeous piano solo (unmuted) that honors the class of sea creatures we know as whales and dolphins. The "voices" of these animals as well as sea birds and the surf make this deeply emotional piece even more descriptive and poignant.

Open Space is spectacular! It is available to download from Amazon and Apple Music/iTunes and can be heard on streaming sites such as Spotify. For more information about The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, be sure to visit their website as well! Very highly recommended!
July 26, 2021
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