Distilling Silence cs756









Then (presumably) even more recent, Ernesto Rodrigues continues to record together with clarinetist Bruno Parrinha in 2022: The provocatively titled Distilling Silence comes from this past May, i.e. prior to Definitive Bucolic (as reviewed here in July, after being recorded in June...), and turns to a different guitarist: Emídio Buchinho had recorded with Rodrigues already, back in 2016 for the trio album Fall, itself evocatively titled, very sparse & quiet music. (This was also a period when I was lamenting that many "silence"-themed albums were simply too quiet, i.e. quieter than the ambient noise of my apartment & neighborhood, i.e. too quiet to be useful....) That album was also rounded out by electronics, and here that's accomplished by Carla Santana — new to me, but also already on the new Uranium (recorded last November) by Isotope Ensemble — to form a quartet. While "fall" (i.e. autumn) & "bucolic" suggest outdoor scenes, though, Distilling Silence evokes more in the way of the indoor & its smaller spaces: There's a sense of "lowercase," i.e. of amplifying the smallest, everyday sounds — the sounds of a quiet home (& e.g. Jeff Shurdut had already released an entire series of albums on this theme...) — i.e. of bringing (the potentially ignored) to presence, but not simply as amplified per se, rather as arising reworked by collective instrumental expression.... (In its sense of the everyday, Distilling Silence thus projects an immanent affective quality, contrasting e.g. with the transcendental-metal yearnings of the previous entry....) One might even recall e.g. Rodrigues' A late evening in the future (noted here in June 2019), a sort of sparse urban outdoor interrogation, but pace the "absolute" orientation here, perhaps a more direct comparison comes from the quintet album Prima pratica (reviewed here in November 2019, and with no other musician in common...), more atmospheric or "outdoor" in its inspirations & perhaps more rambling too.... These covers actually seem to suggest a sequence with Nor, askew now for Distilling Silence (itself lit not unlike A late evening in the future...), another intriguing quartet album (originally discussed here in September 2015) with a frustrating tendency to vanish.... But back to Distilling Silence, a much tighter album than these earlier efforts: There's indeed a real sense of presence brought to the fore here, although one wouldn't call it a foreground, yielding a coherent "musical sweep" that's nonetheless beneath any sense of genre. (In comparison to Metaculture, then, that group employs a more conscious virtuosity or sense of expression, but both can suggest a sort of ambient vibe, rather less naturalistic than is typical for Rodrigues.... And pace notions of "anthropology music," various sounds of the environment have certainly been inspirational for "music history," but there's still a notion of human selection at work, and so specifically of human thought. (And I should also mention the intervening releases including both Rodrigues & Parrinha, the etudes-like quartet album D'Improvviso, featuring new-to-me horn player Michel Stawicki, and a strange experiment in a sort of flat or "unexpressive" virtuosity in the quintet album (with percussion) Unpoem, both including João Madeira on bass as well — & both actually recorded in June 2022 too, i.e. subsequent to Distilling Silence.... (The latter was also recorded in multitrack, if that's worth noting, but not HD.))) Moreover, opening with breath, Distilling Silence develops a sort of post-Cage "sound," a sort of fluttering timbre, slightly echoing, perhaps likely to fade away, but also a sense of deep throbbing (drone?) at times too, forging an ongoing kind of (elevated?) continuity for the space... or for time (& its presencing). There's an intimacy (as canonical lowercase...), and a sort of flow, a feel for pacing... a (non-rhetorical, becoming unconscious...) repose. In short, while nothing is striking, and the album isn't sparse or particularly quiet, there's indeed a sense of distilling silence, i.e. of bringing "everyday silence" to presence. Moments don't stand out, expression doesn't stand out, but one's sense of situation & time are thereby slowly transformed. (And "outside" everyday sounds seem almost charming when they do return.) Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts


With an album such as Distilling Silence, an emphasis on spontaneous reaction here can work against doing a more thorough review. Of course, that's true in general. And sometimes I do feel more occupied with other thoughts (& although I try to bring the same perspective & openness to each release, I'm not sure that's always possible). Or sometimes, it just takes more exposure, or else some other kind of slippage or breakthrough in my other interactions to yield a new perspective.... For Distilling Silence, though, I did already think I might return here when I wrote the other review: One thing about reviewing so many albums from Ernesto Rodrigues over the years is that there're so many albums from Ernesto Rodrigues. (I mean, that's obviously fine. It's only an artifact of what I'm doing here that I need to "sort" into buckets, whether to review, etc.) So what stands out above other projects? (It's the sort of question I ask around various prolific musicians, but they often have releases rather outside my interests. Rodrigues always seems to be intersecting with something relevant here....) And with an album such as Distilling Silence, it was always going to be about random hearings at random times, i.e. to form a more thorough impression, so that took a while. (And it was also about continuing to think about what Rodrigues is doing. Like e.g. Anthony Braxton or Evan Parker in recent entries here, he seems ready, in the "post"-pandemic world, to continue forging new music. Unlike some other arenas where it seems that everyone is stuck in 2019....) Well, it turns out that it's become one of my favorites, so I'm indeed back here for a few more remarks. I'd talked before about cultivating a sort of blandness, which is part of what took me a while with this recording, as it didn't stand out at first.... But what's strange in hindsight is that various passages are quite intense, including rumbling bass & searing high tones, i.e. general framing of audible space, while there're also various held resonances & an overall tendency to vary attacks. (I'm often looking for something to obliterate earworms & other general noise, but Distilling Silence was more subtle about its effectiveness in this domain. It provides more of a "reset" than a frontal assault on jingles.... One might even suggest that it targets "mental noise" more broadly, i.e. the main political tactic of our era, figuring generally overwhelming sensation & emotion — here retuning dissonance itself in order to quiet the mind.) The opening has already taken on a "classic" feel for me, the sense of breath, the unfurling braided timbres, the inviting sense of space.... As already noted (as "tight") in the prior review, there's also a sense that this music is rather refined & so has been "produced" — i.e. akin, perhaps, to some other prominent (& more "jazz"-based) releases discussed here recently, Xaybu & Stepping Out: As usual, there's no real discussion of how Distilling Silence was created, but it fits apparently under "improvisation," even as there was presumably some prior discussion as well as electronic processing. However, Rodrigues has actually moved into composed music at this time as well, or at least has decided to release a recording: The string quartet from Dis/con/sent recorded an album last November of four compositions, one by each member, graphic scores that were then rehearsed & released recently as Kompositionen. (This is actually the group's fourth album, without personnel changes, so that's already unusual for Rodrigues. Various organizational ideas & string techniques of the 20th & 21st centuries are deployed.) And it's not only the opening to Distilling Silence that impresses, as there're four distinct tracks, each seemingly separately conceived & articulated. Of course, including per the title, they seem to be something out of a post-Cage school, and so it's probably worth recalling Cage's famous disdain for improvisation... but then his complaints were also specific & practical: The situation is very different since the development of non-idiomatic improvisation, including moving beyond note-focused music into varying timbral combos. Particularly since Cage's late music often includes a sense of filling intervals of time, these basic notions also lead me into ideas around "coloring" time itself, i.e. beyond the coloring of different beats in rhythmic music (e.g. by a pioneer of the previous generation of European free jazz such as Baby Sommer...), to a more general coloring of interval & temporality. There's thus a sense of sculpting timbral combos here as well, with viola & clarinet fusing with guitar & electronics in different shades (& shifting foregrounds, what I call braiding...). And for me, upon further reflection, the result specifically recalls Coluro (another album from Rodrigues, first reviewed here in July 2018...), a very substantial album by length, also less "economic" in its forces (there as a sextet), but with a similar vibe around timbral combos, and what I called the "spanning" of space thereby. That album long made an impression on me, but ends up seeming rather more rough than Distilling Silence, almost a trial run — although the only musician in common is Rodrigues himself. And then another influential album for me from his recent catalog was Setúbal (recorded shortly before lockdown in February 2020, and reviewed here at the height of lockdown in May 2020), an album with a superb sense of flow (& flowing timbre), part of a much wider trend (perhaps) of flowing water inspirations.... So that sense (& technique) of "flow" seems to inform Distilling Silence as well, coming & going, serving to color time per se. (The other recent album from Rodrigues that I've especially enjoyed this year, Chiaroscuro, uses "flow" passages as well, there packaged more classically — & vertically — into a play of shadows....) But then, it's not only Rodrigues on Distilling Silence: I'd already noted how Bruno Parrinha has contributed to so many projects this year, and I still haven't found anything else about Carla Santana, but Emídio Buchinho (b.1963, Angola) does have more of a media presence, working theater/film music (& via various technology...), sound installation, etc. He doesn't release many albums, and is surely a major factor here (& his prior album with Rodrigues, Fall, although tending to be very quiet, is precise & clear in its conception as well, as noted here last month), i.e. contributes to the singularity of the result. (Buchinho has been collaborating with electronics artists his entire career....) And the result really ends up doing something for me, i.e. the album is useful. As noted, sometimes the passages are intense or even shrill, but somehow, a sense of soothing seems to emerge overall, I guess highlighting the nuances of time, but not in an overbearing way.... Perhaps the key to success here is also its sense of envelopment, i.e. the very low & very high (not to mention the basic timbral variety...) subtly framing-shaping space. Maybe the ringing guitar can even come to suggest the beach (as well) at times. And much like Cage, maybe it can feel emancipatory without being loud or even expressive. Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts