Toshinori Kondo Silent Melodies

[Off; 2007]

Styles: spacey horn improv, ambient, new age, early synth experiments
Others: Tangerine Dream, Kaito, a (much, much) calmer Albert Ayler

Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo has been performing on the electro-acoustic improv circuit for years. He has amassed an impressive list of collaborators ranging from DJ Krush to the Dalai Lama. Silent Melodies is a record full of dilated, echo-laden experiments based on minimalist improvisation on his chosen instrument. Imagine a jazz solo broken down into individual notes, each distended over 15 seconds and sunk in deep pools of reverb, and you’ve got an idea of the sound this artist elicits from the trumpet.

Kondo also makes liberal use of wah-wah, and it’s this effect, in tandem with his higher register noodlings, that can trick the listener into thinking the record is a trippy synth meditation from the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. Kondo edits with a judicious hand, however, preserving just enough of the trumpet’s natural sonic identity to imbue these pieces with a lovely sense of melancholy that offsets their astral abstraction. You can hear the breathing threaded through the dark planes of starlit space; it gives you the impression Kondo is looking skyward with a heavy heart (thank you delay pedal!).

Silent Melodies is split into 12 tracks, but the listening experience is homogeneous enough that the disc listens straight through without a hitch. The split second between tracks is just another slight depression in the elastic topography that Kondo stretches and bends. His clever homage to rudimentary electronic music may wear a little long at nearly 50 minutes, but to my ears, it gives the listener just enough time to find a place inside of his insular aesthetic and then make a judgment call. I find it to be very pretty stuff.

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