Guitarist/oudist/composer Ken Silverman's From Emptiness
is an overtly theatrical and intensely spiritual work. From the abstract, Zen-like, black and white cover art to the chanting of the Buddhist Monk and Sanshin player Kossan that opens and closes the record, the profound spirituality of the music is quite apparent.
The titles of the tunes spell out the sentence "From Emptiness Thought and Emotion," and even though there are seven individual tracks, the music is conceptually one long suite, with an intermission placed before the hypnotic "And Emo" and subsequent "Tion" which change the momentum by creating a repetitive theme where instruments and vocals swirl around each other in an ever-expanding eddy of harmony and sound. The coda-like "From (reprise)," a second take of Kossan's opening chant ends the album.
The theatricality of the compositions and improvisations are not just formalist affectation, but a necessary part of the creative process, as different musical instruments wander, in pairs, onto the virtual stagethe horns first, followed by two pairs of string instrumentsbuilding the theme. Here and there, homages to more traditional jazz styles appear; near the middle of "From," clarinetist Blaise Siwula
and trumpeter Roy Campbell
start a duet that briefly harks back to the early days of New Orleans jazz, before they break into freer improvisations. The rest of the track introduces different combinations of instruments chatting back and forth, with Dave Miller
's arrhythmic but quite evocative drumming pushing the musical action forward.
The rest of the music is essentially free group improvisation that keeps one foot in composition, while expanding its wings on flights of wild fancy.
Despite their various origins, the instruments do not sound at odds with each other but are surprisingly harmonious. Silverman's oud and Cambell's flute, on "Ness," weave an Arabic sounding melody, while Siwula's free alto sax and Tom Swafford violin
's atonal violin add a clearly modern western flavor. On "Thought" Campell's brassy flugelhorn, backed by Silverman on hand percussion, resonates well with Tom Shader
's Turkish Cumbus, creating a 1001 Nights
-like fairy tale of a melody.
With this challenging yet immensely rewarding disc, Silverman and his septet of accomplished musicians have created a work of unique mysticism, drawing upon multiple different cultures to for a near-masterpiece of improvised music.