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Dave Storrs' Sound Shack Part II: Sila Shaman

Dan McClenaghan By

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New York-based pianist/composer/producer Sila Shaman lived in Corvallis, Oregon, from 2005 to 2011. She taught there, at Oregon State University, and composed a soundtrack for a satirical musical production at OSU. This professional stint is notable for two reasons: one, it laid some of the groundwork for her current efforts at composing soundtracks for movies and T.V. (the score for the 2019 documentary Sisters In Freedom and music for the T.V. pilot Perception); and two, she crossed paths in the making of that OSU production with drummer Dave Storrs.

The Shaman/Storrs connection resulted, ultimately, in Shaman's introduction to the Sound Shack, Storrs' recording studio for his efforts as the musician/mad sound scientist/provocateur of Louie Records. And thus, a relationship that started with musical theatre shifted into the realm of improvised music in a Corvallis garage converted to a place to create music.

"From the very first step I took into the space I always felt at home," Shaman says of Storr's studio. "It's sort of a magical place. I know when I walk in there something good will happen." Turns out a lot of good things happened. Raw materials for the three albums at hand were created, later to be molded into these extraordinary finished products.

Sila Shaman/Dave Storrs
First Enounters
Louie Records
2020

The basis for all the tracks of First Encounters were two improvised sessions at the Sound Shack from early 2009. Shaman felt these sounds needed to be "edited in their shape and flow," that it was music in need of a spiffing up at the hands of someone wearing a producer's hat. Shaman put that hat on. She wore it well. She did a terrific job of crafting a unified and engaging focus on what had been perhaps a meandering set of free improvisations. The energy and spontaneity, the "in the moment" quality of the music is maintained. And the final product is a cohesive statement, the after-recording production invisible. She has taken longer, wandering pieces of free improv and sliced and diced them into "little fun morsels." These are compact gems of spontaneous composition, engaging and melodic, and Storrs is as always effervescent, using the tabla to give things an exotic bubble and pop feeling, a clarity inside Shaman's sometimes fluid, sometimes angular melodies.

Dave Storrs/Sila Shaman
Brief West Coast Tour
Louie Records
2020

This is the masterwork of the three pieces discussed here. The most avant-garde and unconventionally beautiful. Much more electronic wizardry, more sampling. It came about in 2019 when Shaman and her family made a pit stop in Corvallis on their way from New York to Singapore. A two-day recording session ensued. Brief West Coast Tour, the raw version, put together by the always quick and instinctive Storrs in a couple of days, saw a limited release on Louie Records in 2019. The pieces were open and ambient, making use of much more overt electro-textures and overdubbing. Shaman heard in these sounds, potential for greater things.

Shaman says: "I wanted it [the edits, productions and re-shapings] to sound like a hall of mirrors, you go from one mirror to the next and each distorts things a little differently."

This is an apt description to what she did. But listening to the two versions of the album back-to-back, going from the rawer effort to Shaman's finished take, it is more like she encountered an outdoor setup of distorting mirrors aligned in an open field, with no particular method to their layout in mind. What she did— her producer's hat snugged down firmly—was to build a house around these free-range mirrors, sealing each piece of warped glass off in its own individual room, bringing in a small vase of flowers here, a framed and brightly colored abstract painting there. In another room, a fresh coat of paint, In another a sparkling chandelier, a construction and embellishment of a twilight-zone world, compartmentalized into fun little interludes and bite-sized excursions, shifting between the surreal and the gorgeously spacey to alluring mainstream sounds with lush samplings and spot-on augmentations. .

Sila Shaman/Dave Storrs/Steve Willis
First Time Again
Louie Records
2020

This is tagged as "improvisation-based compositions by Sila Shaman." It is a piano trio, bassist Steve Willis sitting in with Shaman and Storrs. As it was with Brief West Coast Tour, this disc was released earlier in a rawer form. Shaman the producer, again, took this raw form and ran with it, noting that sometimes, when she involves herself in these reworkings of her improvised projects, they lead her where they want to go. "Sometimes they stay close to home. Sometimes I find myself on another planet."

Where Brief West Coast Tour did the interplanetary thing, First Time Again plays out as more of a homebody. But not always. "Lane Change," in particular, with its dirge-like dance floor rhythm, goes pretty far out there, featuring an initially wavering soundscape with interjections of Shaman's wordless vocal. Murmurings. Then Dave Storrs inquires: "My consistent question to you is: Are you behaving? And if so, why?" It seems, as Shaman was listening to the unproduced trio recordings, when one of her melodic lines jumped out at her, from a phone message that Storrs left her, humming a bit of the melody from Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba." This incited a Shaman-ian brainstorm: Why not frame a narrative out of parts of messages left by Dave Storrs (including his 'behaving" query) on her phone.

From there the disc spins into a delicate and malleable take on "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," that sounds not much produced at all, and then some sampled (?) applause leading into the loose, swinging groove of "Swingaloo," based on Miles Davis' "Sid's Ahead." (?), into the dreamy, amorphous "Spring Could," Shaman's piano sounding pretty in a Bill Evans-like way—a tune that comes off as rather simple on first contact, but reveals depths and shrouded facets and compelling crannies on multiple listens.

That is the artistry of Sila Shaman, her adroit tinkering and re-shaping of improvised source material into full fledged, highly polished works of art.

Tracks and Personnel

First Encounters

Tracks: Lava; Bartok; Gallop; Go Harlequin, Saffron; Kate Fuzzy; Ao; Shadows; Mantis; Shimmer; Snow; Nickel; Crystal.

Personnel: Sila Shaman: piano, electronics; Dave Storrs: drums, tabla.

Brief West Coast Tour

Tracks: Enter; Let The Games Begin; Beyer's Market; Waltz In; Same As Nine; Interlude; No Over Part 1; No Over Part 2; Waltz Out; The I; The T; The C; The H;Transit; First Resolution; Funky Too; Second Resolution; Used Anyway; Meeting is Adjourned.

Personnel: Sila Shaman: keyboards, electronic, soundscapes; Dave Storrs: drums, percussion didgeridoo, trombone, The Room (aka the Sound Shack).

First Time Again

Tracks: Small Step; Lane Change; Bewitched; Swingaloo, Swing Could; Bounce No Chaser; Mr. Spreckles; Spreckles Part Deux; Epilogue.

Personnel: Sila Shaman: piano, keyboards, electronics; Dave Storrs: drums, percussion; Steve Willis: bass.

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