A Silent Way, due out August 20, 2021 via Corner Store Jazz, evokes the rich textures and absorbing atmospherics of the Miles Davis classic while striking out into startling new territory
"[Yanda] flaunts melodic imagination and a brisk feel for swing."
– Bob Doerschuk, DownBeat
“[Yanda] is a wonderful guitarist… He combines [Larry] Coryell’s looseness with [Jim] Hall’s precise tone in a unique burning style.”
– Jerome Wilson, Cadence
For even the most casual of jazz fans, the title of A Silent Way, the latest album by the exploratory guitarist Jim Yanda, will inevitably evoke the name of another album by one of the music’s most iconic figures. That’s no accident. Like Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, Yanda’s trio excursion with trumpet player Herb Robertson and drummer Phil Haynes ventures into often stark, spacious, richly textured territories.
Beyond that commonality, however, there’s very little chance that the two albums could be mistaken for one another – while each proposes a silent way, each carves its own distinctive path into the vast quietude. Due out August 20, 2021 via Corner Store Jazz, Yanda’s Silent Way is a constantly surprising and inventive conversation between three longtime collaborators determined to discover new possibilities with their respective instruments and the interaction between them.
“The connection is a little oblique,” admits Yanda. “But it's definitely there in the approach, the openness – the idea of letting the horn be out there playing ideas with the group responding. Something about that aesthetic allowed us to be audacious enough to call the project A Silent Way, which I think gives people a reference point to draw them into its world.”
Having some recognizable landmarks does help in navigating the mysterious, amorphous landscapes conjured by Yanda and his trio on A Silent Way. It can be equally effective, though, to simply allow oneself to get lost wandering its cavernous sonic spaces, delighting in the crunch and scrape of Haynes’ percussive arsenal, being lured along by Yanda’s wiry lines before getting startled by a sudden blast from Robertson’s trumpet. Sputtering horn bleats are shrouded in howling feedback, an insistent rattling is dissected by the skittering of fingers on strings, a nonsensical chorus of chattering voices erupts from Robertson’s synthesizer – it’s an array of sounds as seemingly limitless as it is fascinatingly abstract.
“Our sensibilities about space and texture are fostered by our common ethos,” Yanda explains. “There has to be a kind of deep listening and deep empathy there. From the first note, Herb opens an immediate portal into a subconscious space of pure creativity. Phil and I join him in that space and that fosters an incredible camaraderie.”
Despite the longevity of the relationships represented in the trio – Yanda and Haynes have been working together since their student days at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, nearly four decades ago, while both connected with Robertson through their Brooklyn rehearsal space, the Corner Store, in the 1990s – A Silent Way marks the first time that they’ve convened as a trio.
Haynes and Yanda are typically found in more composed scenarios, such as Haynes’ “jazz-grass” string band Free Country, the genre-bending organ trio The Hammond Brothers with Steve Adams, and Yanda’s decades-long trio with bassist Drew Gress. Yanda and Robertson, meanwhile, share a long-running free improvisational duo, while Haynes and Robertson released a pair of improvised recordings on CIMP back in 2000, Ritual and Brooklyn-Berlin.
A Silent Way was recorded in Yanda’s New Jersey living room, the same space where it was born. The guitarist hosted a series of free improv sessions at his home, and invited Haynes and Robertson to join him one particularly fruitful day in early 2019, with engineer Jon Rosenberg expertly capturing the fragile atmosphere. “Right after the first session, it was universally agreed by all of us that there was something special here,” Yanda recalls. “We immediately said, ‘Let's do it again.’ So we had another couple of sessions throughout the spring, and eventually came to the realization that we should document this. We met over a weekend in June, rolled tape, and ended up with a tremendous amount of material.”
In another parallel to Miles’ In a Silent Way, Haynes took on the Teo Macero role, sifting through the hours of material to assemble the most captivating moments. That he found enough thrilling music to fill two full discs is testament to the scintillating chemistry shared by these three master improvisers. Despite the lack of strictures on the trio’s interactions, a definite architecture emerges from even the most sparse and ephemeral of pieces.
“There's a tendency in free improvisation to make sound without listening deeply, because it’s so open and there are no rules,” Yanda says. “It's a much greater challenge to make what you're doing cohere with the overall context, to try to give things some form and structure.”
Yanda, Haynes and Robertson are all deeply attuned to that approach, each with his own long history of creating compelling music from the moment’s inspiration. A Silent Way is a particularly shining example of those tendencies, one that rewards the same close, focused listening and inspired discovery that the artists felt when creating it.