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Album Review: Ocean Angels and Guardians EP
Wayne Gratz and The Outlaw Ocean Music Project
Cover image of the album Ocean Angels and Guardians EP by Wayne Gratz and The Outlaw Ocean Music Project
Ocean Angels and Guardians EP
Wayne Gratz and The Outlaw Ocean Music Project
2020 / Synesthesia Media
20 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Wayne Gratz has been one of my favorite pianist/composers since the early Narada Records days (Wayne released his first album, Reminiscence, in 1989.). He founded Wayne Gratz Music in 2002 and has released nine albums independently as well as scoring the music for several films. Wayne lives close to the ocean on the east coast, so I wasn't surprised to see his name listed as one of the contributing artists to The Outlaw Ocean Music Project, a fascinating project inspired by Ian Urbina's incredible book, The Outlaw Ocean. (If you aren't familiar with the book, you need to fix that!) Highlighting the tragedies and horrors that are ongoing on the world's ocean waterways, the book is compelling and enlightening reading. To further spread the word about these crimes on the high seas, Ian Urbina has encouraged a wide range of musicians and composers to create music that reflects their reactions to what they read. There are more than 400 albums currently (the list continues to grow) by artists from all over the world and in a wide range of music genres. The title of Wayne's EP is Ocean Angels and Guardians.

In Wayne's own words: "With the evocative content and subject matter of The Outlaw Ocean to take inspiration from, the creative process was incredibly organic for me. As I explored the treasure trove of information and materials Ian cultivated over the years — everything from the book itself to videos and field audio — I began to improvise melodies and blend soundscapes with the clips of sound provided by Ian. It felt like all of my songs seemed to write themselves, creating an EP of music that unveils tones of frustration and concern."

The five-track EP begins with "The Chase," one of the chapters in the book about the difficulties (putting it mildly!) of finding and catching some of the worst offenders on the seas. The piece includes a recording from The Rainbow Warrior while the crew was staging a peaceful protest about the dangers of drilling for oil. Dramatic, emotional and somewhat mysterious, it's a powerful, cinematic piece of music. "In Calmer Seas" includes the sounds of the surf, sea birds, and mechanical sounds, adding color and atmosphere to Wayne's hauntingly beautiful, meditative piano. The darkly brooding "Nets" refers to fishing nets that can stretch for 40-50 miles, gathering everything in their paths whether is it useful, edible or suffering needlessly. Field recordings made by Greenpeace to a fishing boat working illegally brings the issue into sharp focus, although the scale of these crimes is overwhelming. Piano, sounds of the sea and keyboard instrumentation paint a vivid, emotional picture. "The Ocean's Call" is rhythmic, somewhat more ambient, and hypnotic. In the book, Ian recalls a strong but often very quiet and private personality type that spends much of his or her life at sea. The "voice" of the piano feels very isolated from the vast shimmering ambience I interpret as being the ocean far from shore and civilization. "Icy Seas and Shorelines" is peaceful but very chilly! Piano, haunting vocals, and ambient instrumental sounds sparkle as they express the bone-chilling cold of some of the ocean's more extreme climates. Both beautiful and evocative, the piece suggests the stillness of that part of the world and the tragedy of how fast it is disappearing.

Ocean Angels and Guardians is available as a download from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and many streaming sites including Spotify. For more information about The Outlaw Ocean Music Project and its artists, be sure to visit that website as well. Very highly recommended!
July 26, 2021
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