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Alan Silva/Oluyemi Thomas: Transmissions

In the period between 1965 and 1970 alone, Alan Silva’s double-bass innovations graced enough enduring, if not historic, recordings to ensure a permanent prominence in the discussion of the evolution of extended techniques and the instrument’s role in improvised music. Curiously, however, he is rarely mentioned in the same paragraph, let alone breath, as the principals of the new thing, despite a subsequent, steady output of recordings into the late ’80s. A discographical gap between 1987 and ’93, and a focus on keyboards on most of his recordings in the ’90s, certainly did not help his stock as a bassist. Transmissions, a duo program with woodwind player Oluyemi Thomas, is a welcomed opportunity to hear Silva reassert his compelling voice on the instrument.

Despite its densities, Silva’s style can be distilled to a few core components: a distinctive glissando; a rich variegated arco attack; and a Minguslike tapping of deep roots, which is best heard here on the solo “Offering to the Exalted One.” As this continuous performance arcs from low, gravel-voiced rumblings from Silva and Thomas’ bass clarinet (which can be mistaken for David Murray’s) to a finale driven by Silva’s slap-accented figures and Thomas’ simmering C-melody sax, Silva’s signatures are tirelessly and imaginatively reworked. Additionally, Silva is a keen listener (as is Thomas), who repeatedly ratchets the tension or shifts the color at the right moment to charge the dialogue. Transmissions is an absorbing album, and a clear signal of Silva’s ongoing vitality.

Originally Published