April 29, 2011

Silent Tongues make some noise on campus

You may not have heard of them, but the Silent Tongues are coming soon to a quad near you. The group, a jazz ensemble that formed in fall of 2009, has played around campus at the Robie House, the TEDxUChicago reception, and most recently at the Op Shop last Thursday.

The band consists of fourth-year Andrew Thornton on alto saxophone, fourth-year Ross Weijer on trumpet, third-year Unjin Lee on trombone, third-year Peter Korajczyk on drums, third-year Samuel Becker on bass, and second-year Max Stolarski on piano. The group met while playing together in Jazz-tet, a University of Chicago jazz ensemble. “We just sort of decided that we all like to improvise and we were looking for a different sort of opportunity to do that,” said Weijer. The group started out by meeting once a week for jam and improv sessions, but then changed gears. “All we wanted to do was jam and we did that four or five times and then realized it takes a lot more than just getting a bunch of musicians together and playing. We went back to the drawing table, chose some songs and standards that we liked, arranged them ourselves, and gave them an interesting twist. We built into them spaces where we could be more creative,” Becker said.

The Silent Tongues describe their sound as experimental, fusing together their unique takes on traditional styles of playing with free improvisation. Each band member attempts to push the boundaries of his instrument, playing them in ways they aren’t normally played. “In a more traditional structure of music you want to have a nice, clear consistent tone. Here, it’s experimenting with the sound itself and seeing what the possibilities of the sounds are,” Lee said.

By creating a lot of space within their music to improvise, the individual band members have freedom to experiment with their instruments’ abilities and create a unique sound. “I use a lot of experimenting with false fingerings and multi-phonics and overtones. I play the horn in a way it’s not intended to produce a sound which is not traditional, and in the right setting, can sound very musical,” said Thornton. Korajczyk will sometimes use a bow, intended to play the string bass, to play the cymbals, creating an eerie sound. Korajczyk has also used a metal kitchen bowl to add texture. Weijer sometimes plays his instrument without certain parts to see what experimental sounds he can create.

While the group has yet to create an album, six of their current tracks are available for download on their website ( “Brilliant Corners” is a nearly thirteen minute-long improvisational heavy jam with an “all-out” finish. The band describes the tracks on their website as “toned down,” since most of their performance opportunities at this point call for a more “straight-edge” sound. “Improvisation #14” probably best describes the Silent Tongues. An extended improvisation, each band member takes risks on the track, producing unique sounds from the sax, trumpet, and trombone.

The future may include releasing an album, but for now, the band is content to focus on their playing. “We did long, sixty-minute jazz sessions and had it all recorded. Maybe some day we’ll put some cuts on it and make it an album of some sort,” Lee said. The band’s fan base consists mainly of people who they already know. But popularity isn’t as important to the Silent Tongues as just having the opportunity to play and improvise together. “I didn’t start thinking of us as a band when we first started doing this. It was mostly just about the playing, just another opportunity to be creative. The more people who hear it, that’s cool, and the more people we can show what we do is cool too. It’s mostly just a learning experience,” Weijer said.

Popularity aside, the group is happy to play together and have the opportunity to improvise and create unique twists on music. Thornton describes a recent rehearsal where the group played and experimented with a simple, four-note jazz piece. The jam went on for nearly thirty minutes. “I went on a meditation trip for ten days and this was one hundred times more meditative,” Thornton said.

The Silent Tongues hope to have a radiating effect on people. They recently practiced out on the quad because their normal practice space was occupied. “We’re sort of thinking we’ll do it in the future,” Becker said. “We got a lot of compliments and people stopped and watched even though it was late.”