Tuesday, January 24, 2006

quiet at the foot of the gathering rays of morning's first light

Javier Girotto's quiet soprano playing is still resonating in my mind and was amplified by a few other encounters.

A first sampling of Nils Wogram Root 70's "Getting Rooted" led to track 3, a super-minimal, altered, sort-of-blues during which saxophonist/clarinetist Hayden Chisolm plays not only excruciatingly softly, but also with delicately wavering intonation and indeterminate harmonic direction (in comparaison, Girotto's tone was always firm and more harmonically clear). It reminded me of some of the saxophone playing to be heard on Neal Caine's excellent "Backstabber's Ball," which, for the sake of my argument, I'll assume to be the work of saxophonist/clarinetist Stephen Riley. In both players, there's an echo of saxophonist/clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre on "The Western Suite" (a chamber jazz album with Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall I've just bought, the title-track of which is incredible). I think you've noticed the pattern here.

I wonder if the clarinet's lower "default" volume inspired these players to transfer that dynamic to saxophone. The effect of unexpected, sustained quietness is quite powerful, which is why I tend to lament the high default volume amplification generally sets (the quieter reaches simply aren't available any more) as well as too-systematic recourse to crescendoes out of intimate low-volume foreplay: maybe foreplay shouldn't (or can't) last forever, but it could often go on longer than it does.

Perhaps the effect of quiet music (or, rather, a quiet section within generally louder music) derives in part from the fact that our daily interactions with other people mostly take place at volumes far quieter than default concert volume, or even default saxophone volume. A quiet line then takes on directness and immediacy because its volume relates to that at which another person might talk to us, or even whisper sweet nothings in our ear.