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Jim Yanda Trio — Regional Cookin'
(Bandcamp Cornerstone CSJ-0056, 2013, CD / DL)

Jim Yanda Trio — Home Road
(Bandcamp Cornerstone CSJ-0113/0114, 2016, 2CD / DL)

Jim Yanda — A Silent Way
(Bandcamp Cornerstone CSJ-0126 0127, 2021, 2CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-01-29

Regional Cookin' Cover artHome Road Cover artA Silent Way Cover art

Guitarist Jim Yanda’s latest recording, A Silent Way, is a bold step forward into previously unexplored territory, one that should elicit a quick review of his past endeavors to recap the many steps on the path to where his music is today. Having grown up on a dairy farm in rural Iowa, his earliest professional musical experience included performing western swing in local dance halls, then later playing in garage rock bands. It was at Coe College near Cedar Rapids where he was introduced to jazz and 20th Century avant-garde music by trumpeter and mentor Paul Smoker. After several years working in Chicago’s jazz scene, Yanda moved to New York with his longtime collaborator, drummer Phil Haynes, and has played on recordings by Haynes’ band Free Country, Damon Short, and others.

In the late 80s, Yanda recorded his first album with his jazz trio, titled Regional Cookin’, ten instrumental cuts featuring Haynes and bassist Drew Gress, although the album wasn’t released until 2013. While the focus is nominally jazz, his sound is somewhat informed by rock, blues, and counry as well, and early heroes Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix; the album is a wonderful mix of styles and ideas that makes for great listening. In 2016 he released the 2CD set Home Road with the same crew, combining a core of composed jazz influenced by blues with some avant-garde sensibilities, but it’s definitely overall more of a jazz excursion than its predecessor, with many explicitly gentle and emotional passages; it’s a delight to listen to, and with two discs, there’s a lot of great ideas blowing through it, though it really doesn’t prepare the listener for what came next, and that’s probably because A Silent Way (another two-disc set) isn’t by the same group, although Haynes and Yanda are featured throughout it.

The title’s similarity with a famous Miles Davis album is probably no accident, although no listener familiar with the Davis classic could possibly confuse the two — though they were probably cut in the same spirit. For this endeavor Yanda and Haynes have teamed up with trumpeter Herb Robertson (whose credits include playing with just about everybody, including many of the Satoko Fujii releases reviewed in these pages) for a far more free and abstract romp through improvised territory than what would have been expected from the trio of Yanda, Haynes, and Gress. In fact the sessions for A Silent Way were recorded in Yanda’s living room after inviting a number of different players to his home for random improv sessions; the day in 2019 that Yanda, Haynes, and Robertson met seemed to hold a special magic, so the three agreed to do it again, and two more sessions were scheduled before they realized they needed to document the sessions; engineer Jon Rosenberg was brought in to capture the magic over a weekend the following summer. Then came the lengthy process of sifting through the many hours of recordings to extract the finest moments from the three days of sessions for inclusion. The first disc kicks off with the curious and engaging “Voyager,” Haynes producing some bizarre scraping sounds while Robertson’s trumpet squeaks and groans, then some howling feedback completely changes the contour of the scene, followed by Yanda’s entry on guitar, while Haynes provides a churning and busy undercurrent to the proceedings, and toward the end Robertson provides some interesting electronic effects on synthesizer. All is forward looking and even a bit chaotic at times, while never repeating any ideas twice. Some of the pieces, like “Spirits,” take a more gentle approach, almost sounding like some woodwinds or flutes were involved in the long intro passage, surely some extended techniques by Robertson. Any place where the listener drops the needle will confirm that what the trio are doing is pretty out-there, but still very listenable and not abrasive, more curious than anything else, with Yanda’s guitar providing nearly all of the melodic charm. Disc one closes with “Odyssey,” another extended (almost fourteen-minute) piece that stirs up plenty of chaos while reminding this listener of some of the wildest moments of Spaces with Coryell and McLaughlin. “Jungle” opens the second disc with more extended techniques from Robinson while Yanda uses his slide over Haynes’ churning percussive chaos. The twelve-minute title track is one of the highlights of the second disc, starting softly like a gentle breeze that quickly evolves into a curious showcase of exemplary improv with Robertson closing the proceedings on some kind of wind keyboard. Intrepid listeners who dwell in the far reaches should definitely check out A Silent Way.

Filed under: New releases, 2013 releases, 2016 releases, 2021 releases

Related artist(s): Phil Haynes, Jim Yanda

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