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Monday, December 5, 2022

Mark Guiliana – the sound of listening (Edition Records, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

At first, it’s hard to believe the press release for this album. Its rich sonic fruit apparently sprouted from silence. Its shapeshifting sonic sculptures are carved from deep serenity. Listen again, however, and it starts adding up. With inner silence, Mark Guiliana has observed the world’s contradictions. Then played them.

“the sound of listening” is Guiliana’s third release as the leader of a quartet. The drummer is joined by Shai Maestro (keys), Jason Rigby (woodwind) and Chris Morrissey (bass). The idea for the album is taken from “Silence”, a book by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. It’s an introspective record that fuses acoustic and electronic influences with contemporary compositions and free improvisations to travel long distances via twisting routes.

That sense of constant change is exemplified by the 'most important question.' A pulse from bass and drums creates a foreboding, dark backdrop. Rigby’s saxophone roams, uncertain. After one minute, a ballad feeling rises. Morrissey’s bass drops into the center of the sound. Then Maestro’s piano drives the track in a dancey direction, before the saxophone twirls and chatters. By the end, the darkness has transformed into bright light. Guiliana’s percussion is exquisite throughout.

The album’s shifting landscapes and contrasting climates are partly the result of frequent changes in instrumentation. Rigby plays clarinet, bass clarinet and flute on 'the courage to be free.' Maestro adds mellotron and ampliceleste. Guiliana switches to synth. Electronic elements add a space-travel vibe. It’s one of four short, organic pieces scattered across the record like wildflower seeds.

'continuation' is the last track, and its African rhythms meet Eastern harmonic ideas from Maestro’s piano. It’s a fitting ending to an album that covers a lot of emotional and musical ground. It’s fun, basically. Perhaps even Zen masters like to cut loose now and then.

For silence to inspire such a profusion and variety of tones and timbres is a neat trick. “the sound of listening” is a record characterized by remarkable openness, honesty and instinctiveness. By staying rigidly faithful to his own vision and voice, Guiliana allows the music to roam and change its spots freely and widely. That might seem like a contradiction. But it’s the truth.

The album is available on CD and digital download here, with vinyl coming in 2023.