All the Birds and a Telephone Ringing: tensions and an uneasy relationship between humans and the natural world expressed in jazz improv / musique concrete

Susana Santos Silva, All the Birds and a Telephone Ringing, Sweden, Thanatosis, THT18 limited edition CD (2022)

Coming from a background of avantgarde jazz and improvisation, Portuguese-born trumpeter Susana Santos Silva adds field recordings and electronics to her toolkit in recording her most recent album “All the Birds and a Telephone Ringing”. The unusual juxtaposition of the natural world and the anthropomorphic world of modern mass media technologies in the album’s title hint at the uneasy relationships and tensions that often exist between nature and humans, with nature often being the more adversely affected of the two … but then, as we’re only too well aware, nature ends up being the one that bats last. Just as unusual too is the way in which Santos Silva combines field recordings with her trumpet sounds, such that it’s the field recordings that constitute the music and the trumpet or other sounds coming from conventional musical instruments that act like effects or background noises. This is apparent on first track “The Way Home”, in which the hull of a creaky wooden ship provides the structure and pace of the music, the bleating of seagulls adds a sort of melody, and the trumpet and percussion instruments become incidental sound effects.

After this introduction, the album switches from more conventionally melodic though still free jazz (“Always Arriving Always Departing”) to musique concrete (“As One Comes to the World”) to noise ambient (“All the Birds”). Each song is very consistent in its entirety and each song also represents a different fusion of field recording samples, trumpet, flute and studio processing techniques. Each time a new song starts then, can come as a complete surprise to those who think they can pin down Santos Silva’s style and approach to music composition and performance into a neat box with as few words to describe her music-making as possible. Some listeners may find the long tracks a bit tiresome – over seven or nine minutes, long pieces like “As One Comes to the World” and “All the Birds” seem to get stuck in ruts of their own making and repeating themselves over and over – and though these songs are embellished with plenty of background samples of everyday life, they can appear detached from the storm and stress of daily living. Only the final track “For Reasons a Human Cannot Divine” admits some melancholy mood and gloom in Santos Silva’s trumpet playing.

This is an intriguing if rather minimalist work with inspired use of field recordings in their own right as though they are actual musical elements. A couple of tracks could be a bit longer to exercise their ability to draw in and swallow up listeners and guide them gently through an immersive soundscape. As a limited edition cassette release, this album might become something of a collector’s item among lovers of experimental and free jazz in the near future.

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