Alan Silva / Celestrial Communications Orchestra
The Shout / Portrait for a Small Woman
Sun Records : 1978
Alan Silva, conductor. Georges Menousek, alto sax; Georges Gaumont, soprano sax; Jo Maka*, alto sax, soprano sax; Francois Cotinaud, tenor sax, oboe; Jouk Minor*, baritone sax, contrabass clarinet; Denis Colin, bass clarinet, octocontralto clarinet; Robert Garrison, trumpet; Pierre Sauvageot, trumpet; Bernard Vitet*, trumpet; Itaru Oki*, trumpet; Adolf Winkler*, trombone; Michael Zwerin*, trombone; Pierre Faure, flute; Jacques Dolias, violin; Catherine Lienhardt, violin; Bruno Girard, violin; Helene Bass, cello; Pierre Jacquet, bass; Armand Assouline, percussion; Michael Coffi, drums; Muhammad Ali*, drums.
Welcome to LOST TONES which features tracks from hyper-rare recordings that aren’t available anywhere else on the web. These treasures are courtesy of George Scala, who runs the invaluable Free Jazz Research site. He’s generously shared them from his amazing archive so they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors. Each selection is something that we unequivocally love and feel deserves a wider audience.
ALAN SILVA AND THE CELESTRIAL COMMUNICATIONS ORCHESTRA
Happy birthday to Alan Silva, who celebrated his 72nd birthday on Saturday, January 29th. We’re pleased to mark the occasion with tracks from The Shout, a wonderful record that showcases his talents as one of jazz’s most creative composers, arrangers, and conductors of large ensembles.
Silva’s best known in this department for gonzo cult classics like Luna Surface and the epic Seasons, both released on the seminal BYG/Actuel label. Those fearsome large-canvas sound galaxies are not for the faint of heart. Silva describes Seasons as “a big Jackson Pollock painting” and that’s as apt a description as any. But Silva’s also a fan of Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, and Gil Evans, and these albums represent only one side of his large ensemble work.
Recorded in 1978, The Shout / Portrait for a Small Woman showcases a more focused, nuanced, and compositional approach. Silva doesn’t play bass on the album, but he wrote and arranged everything and conducts the ensemble. Recorded with a sprawling 21-piece orchestra, the tunes are remarkably concise: Most clock in at well under five minutes. In a familiar irony, this über-rare record serves as a better entrance to Silva’s orchestral soundworld than the more famed efforts.
The title track delivers a controlled sonic tempest, intercut with sighing strings and percussive breakouts. “Communications” marries post-bop blitz and 20th-century classical cacophony, seeming to grab the listener from twenty different points simultaneously while still feeling cohesive. Dig Jouk Minor’s compositionally grounded and skidding sax solo. The two-minute “Stepping” is a sprightly palette cleanser, swinging with cyclical riffs. It’s Ellingtonian, almost.
STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE: ALAN SILVA RECALLS THE SHOUT
George Scala recently talked to Alan Silva to collect firsthand background on the album. Some highlights from that conversation:
This version of the Celestrial Communications Orchestra came out of Silva’s work as a teacher at the Institute for Art, Culture, and Perception in Paris. The school emphasized a “world fusion education,” teaching students how to learn music by studying more than written European music. It focused on oral traditions in African, Indian, Asian, and Native American, South American cultures.
Silva has an interesting education background himself, having studied music with Donald Byrd, anthropology with Alan Lomax, and followed communications theory at MIT. He was struck by the challenge of how to teach improvisation. His solution? “Create compositions students could play.” The compositions on The Shout were written specifically for these musicians, including the soloists.
A number of the players were students who’d been working with Silva for 2-3 years, like a graduate class. They performed alongside regular members of the CCO, who are noted in the personnel above with an asterisk. “This composition is a teaching tool,” Silva says. “Like a doctoral dissertation.” Though to us, it couldn’t sound any further from academic.
While Seasons was largely improvised as a sort of abstract conduction and recorded at a live concert, The Shout was conceived as a studio project from the start. “This was my largest piece of composition,” Silva says. “The compositions were done with the length of the record in mind.” The album came about thanks to the prompting of producer Sebastien Bernard, an ally of the Center of the World collective, who was eager to record Silva’s orchestra. Remarkably, this was only Silva’s second studio record to date.
–For more on what Alan Silva’s up to these days, check out his ongoing internet radio show at Live 365. Follow the link to his show, which is titled “Ih-Have-Celestrial.”
–Silva’s album is dedicated “to all small women.” We’d like to humbly dedicate this post to longtime friend of the site Cherise.
–Favorite creative big band tracks? Let us know in the comments.