Artist: Ayumi Tanaka Trio
Album: Subaqueous Silence
02. Black Rain
03. Ruins II
06. Towards the Sea
07. Subaqueous Silence
Often forgotten in the rush to celebrate rhythm and melody is one of music’s most powerful ingredients: complete and utter silence. Few artists today have made quiet a part of their art in more profound ways than Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka. The lack of any sound whatsoever, a huge empty space in which the preceding notes can linger and resonate, has become a chief ingredient in her avant and edgy form of improvised free jazz. On Subaqueous Silence, her musical vision is supported by drummer and percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen whose intricately placed exclamations with shakers and sifting, smoky brushwork is masterful and intriguing. His presence is joined by bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen who plucks and strums with an equal ear for Tanaka’s dedication to a hushed method and ultimately, some measure of musical tranquility.
In this her debut as a leader, she uses long pauses in a composition like “Ruins” to great advantage, allowing a note or chord to trail off into complete silence before moving on. Unlike a lot of jazz which tends to overvalue frenetic action and reaction, Tanaka’s minimalist art, spare and full of open space, can embrace a bleak edge. As peaceful as the title track is, the uncertainness and eerie sound of Svendsen playing arco bass with a bow in “Towards the Sea” gives it the feel of a ghost story getting scarier.
Svendsen’s use of a bow adds an odd element that sometimes sounds like a human voice while at other moments taking on more of the timbre and attack of a woodwind in “Black Rain,” which grows more insistent as it continues. Capturing all the richness of her deliberate art, the album was recorded in June 2019 at the Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria in Oslo, Norway by engineers Daniel Wold and Ingar Hunskaar, and produced—as all ECM records are—by Manfred Eicher.
Capturing silence has always been a potent yet overlooked part of Eicher’s distinct aesthetic. An active presence on the Norwegian jazz scene, Tanaka plays in a three pianos ensemble, an open form improvising trio, and has also played with the ensemble Nakama. As her most intimate statement, Subaqueous Silence, is by its very title, a statement of Tanaka’s belief that music is a fragile, mystical gift, one that demands much from the listener, and is only revealed by careful listening to every note and every empty space, rather than music as background or a gaggle of instrumental voices playing at once. Rarely has silence carried this much meaning.
Double Bass – Christian Meaas Svendsen
Drums – Per Oddvar Johansen
Piano – Ayumi Tanaka