My Silence It Only Happens at Night

[482 Music; 2011]

Styles: free improvisation, post-rock, chamber improvisation
Others: People, Places & Things; Locksmith Isidore; Colorlist; Chicago Underground Duo

Chicago-based percussionist Mike Reed has his hands in a lot of pots; a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), in the last few years he’s worked most notably as leader of People, Places & Things, the roving cast of improvisers young and old(er) who engage Chicago jazz compositional history through reinterpreting obscure non-standards by figures like Sun Ra, Johnny Griffin, and Wilbur Ware. Reed has also been associated with the Pitchfork Music Festival and the Umbrella Music Festival as a presenter and organizer, bridging the Windy City jazz and underground rock traditions. It’s fitting that this would eventually occur on record, too; the result is the trio My Silence with bass clarinet wizard Jason Stein and guitar/electronics artist Nick Butcher. Reed expands his palette here to include contrabass, baritone ukulele, and a digital update of Conny Plank-style improvised cut-and-paste. Sharon Van Etten contributes vocals as well, though her work is computer-aided rather than part of the group’s (admittedly rare) live repertoire.

It Only Happens at Night consists of eight compositions culled from two years of recordings; the pieces grew out of trio improvisations that were then cut up to form the basis of a multipart work. Further instrumentation was overdubbed, and simple vignette-like pieces were added on top of these fragments to flesh them out and create clearer structural components. In concert with groups like the Chicago Underground aggregations of cornetist/electronic artist/composer Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor, or the work of 482 Music labelmates Colorlist (drummer Charles Rumback and saxophonist/electronicist Charles Gorczynski), My Silence harps on textural generalities that have much in common with the minimal, gauzy post-rock atmospheres of the city’s art-rock underground. Glitchy electronics and Van Etten’s thick wisps (à la Karin Krog) open “I Didn’t Dream last Night,” burbling bass clarinet and snare patter providing notches in a subtly-graded field. Deceptively simple, superimposed beats, and distant strums serve to wrap interplay with measured head bobs, though reedy whine and bowed growls nearly undermine the tune’s folksy ambiance. Stein lets out with unruly scrawl on the brief “Little Boy,” showing his inclination toward a noisy logic peeled from Michel Portal and Willem Breuker, in what could become a cracking reed-drum duo before a computerized whir signals its end. This improvisation is reprised in the slightly longer fracas “Whatever Happened to Doo-Wop,” freebop surge and gritty cymbal sawing a canvas for a low-horn gamut.

Because the acoustic qualities of Stein and Reed’s instrumentation are varied and interesting in themselves, Butcher’s work could be seen at first as augmentative, but that wouldn’t give him enough credit for finding simple patterns that, whether real-time or not, create a latticework of interesting phrases and colors that build on the woollier play of reeds and drums. “Self Portrait” is an example of this, with the introduction of gentle loops and Van Etten’s wordless vocals bringing the piece from turbulent rattle into wistful, filmic electro-pop. Plaintive, oddly crotchety strums mimic the recent work of Oval in brilliantly saccharine opposition to Stein’s scalar plateaus and kinetic filigree on “Slow Cycle,” the occasional buzzing sample contributing to fascinating and unclassifiable music. Legendary forebears Pete La Roca and Steve McCall enter into Reed’s drumming on “The Secret Dreams of Mothers to Be,” crisply setting an environment for metallic sideways warble and spare, almost isolated digital constructions. In theory, such a combo shouldn’t be as engaging as it is, but My Silence turn open-form improvisation and a keen ear for electronic form into complementary bedfellows. Post-rock, free music, and laptops rarely sound this good on one platter.

Links: My Silence - 482 Music

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