With its incredibly varied roster of artists that encompasses various strands of jazz, classical, world music, along with interesting and unexpected amalgamations of the previously mentioned genres, the ECM label has been at the forefront of contemporary music for more than five decades. As such it has inspired countless other acts on how to write, produce, and with their high-quality cover art, even how to present their music. One of the bands who found inspiration in ECM's music is Next To Silence, a jazz outfit from Skopje's jazz scene. For a long time the band's repertoire consisted only of tracks by artists such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek
, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko
, guitarists Bill Frisell
, John Abercrombie
, pianist Carla Bley
, to name but a few. Even the band's name was taken from ECM's motto "Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence."
Some projects recorded during the COVID pandemic are gloomy, others are escapist while others carry artists in new directions. Even though the material on this eponymous debut record by Next to Silence has been a long time coming, it has made the artists in this band step out of their mold to create something different yet reminiscent of where it came from. At the heart of this record and this quartet's connection is the fact that these are people with deep listening skills. There are no by-note responses and predictable ploys. The music and improvisations take them where they need to go. Loose, personal sounding throughout, this set serves as a time capsule of what is known as "The plague years." It serves as a reminder of how the human imagination can still soar in times of isolation, social distancing, and anxiety. All but one composition on this record are originals and the band does a cover of the legendary Polish jazz and film composer Krzysztof Komeda
titled "Kattorna." The six compositions play without any inkling of any of the maladies that took on the world globally and they masterfully interweave trumpeter Aleksandar Nikolovski's lyrical lines with the textural works provided by Filip Dimishkovski's keyboards and Goce Naumov's idiosyncratic propulsive drumming, all buoyed by Dragan Stojkovski's solid bass lines.
All of the band members are staple players in other bands (most notably Sethstat, Last Expedition, Baklava, and pianist Dimishkovski plays in numerous local jazz bands), but when this band plays together, they create a collective sound that is classicist, yet adventurous enough to insist on its own modernity. The opening "Saukko" sets the tone nicely. By no means is this a classical organ jazz band in a traditional hard bop sense, but more in a soulful, hard-grooving sense that nods to classic '70s production where Dimishovski's keyboards bring to mind Return to Forever before it went prog-rock. "Nootka" is a beautiful and playful blend of bebop fluidity with '70s soul-jazz. It has an almost danceable groove that gives every player space to either solo or make an emphatic, but still supportive statement. There is a playful melody that Nikolovski plays where his tone evokes the ethereal and painterly sound of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer
, but without the electronic effects. As a composition, "Yasna" excels, adding an amusing touch: it features a playful and up-tempo piano, against the sounds of a shaker and Nikolovski's Kenny Wheeler
-esque trumpet melodies.
Next to Silence is a fine band with a strong repertoire. Its debut is inspired by thoughts and emotions of the future and experiences of the past. It is a beautiful and mature album that is cinematic in its scope, inspired by the ECM sound. As such, it is exciting in many ways and a testament not only to their individual playing but to their compositional prowess and band interplay.