Since 1998, the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco, CA, has run a stimulating series of gallery concerts under the umbrella title of Meridian Music: Composers in Performance. Innova's Earth Music is a compilation of 14 cuts taken from live recordings from within this series, several being improvisations from star instrumentalist/composers -- Vinny Golia, Frank Gratkowski, Matthew Sperry, and koto virtuoso Shoko Hikage to name a few -- and others being excerpts from loosely, or more strictly composed, pieces by Pauline Oliveros, Damon Smith, a voice/cello song by Theresa Wong, and even a simultaneous realization of two Anthony Braxton pieces performed by the series' first curator, Philip Gelb, and pipa player Jie Ma. It's a well chosen selection, emphasizing some of those magical moments that seem only to emerge from improvising, usually off in the air and gone by the time anyone thinks to hit "record." Thankfully the curators of the series thought ahead and had the tape rolling before the music got underway.
As one might expect, there is a little inconsistency in the sound quality throughout the program, with older tapings sounding a bit more distant and hissy than later ones, suggesting a change in the recording rostrum along the way, or at least evolutionary engineering expertise. However, several of the pieces are exceptionally striking, such as John Bischoff's Quarter Turn; nothing on Earth Music is really long enough to wear out its welcome, and some pieces, such as Shoko Hikage's koto improvisation, seem a little too short. Nevertheless, Earth Music is a solid snapshot of this interesting concert series and provides an enjoyable, ad hoc primer of the improvisation movement in the United States from 2010 onward.