The opening track of Submerging Silently, “One”, begins like the sound of a beast awakening. Gahlord DeWald’s bass noodles around, looking for something to attach itself to, while Kevin Cheli’s percussion clatters away and Jessica Ackerley‘s fast, furious picking revs things up. It’s a slow-building introduction to a fascinating experimental project that shows off the improvisational acumen of these three brilliant musicians.
The recording of Submerging Silently took place in March 2022 in Honolulu, where Ackerley and DeWald are based, and Cheli happened to be visiting. Due to the COVID pandemic, it was the first time Ackerley had played with other musicians since moving to Hawaii from New York the previous year, and it’s entirely possible that this long absence from in-person collaboration resulted in such an intense, profoundly inspirational performance. The seven tracks, several stretching past the ten-minute mark, see the three musicians stepping out along seemingly infinite avenues.
Many of Submerging Silently‘s tracks start quietly, as in the case of “Shape”, which begins with the three musicians gently churning away before Ackerley’s guitar becomes suffused with effects and the rhythm section becomes somewhat unhinged. It eventually rises to a frenetic, seemingly overpowering level before it quiets down again, with Ackerley employing harmonics to offer a new sonic option. What’s interesting about this collaboration is that it’s just that: a collaboration in every sense of the word. The three of them are constantly playing off each other, reacting to what the other two are doing, never letting individual egos overtake the performance.
There’s a haunting sense of foreboding in the track “Space”, as if the musicians replicate the vast unknown outside our planet. The trio move cautiously through the piece, with plenty of sustained notes and cymbals washing over the listener. But, as often happens on Submerging Silently, the song eventually lets loose. Ackerley releases potent, noisy shredding, and DeWald and Cheli expertly keep up, with DeWald briefly bowing the bass like a cello towards the end.
Dewald’s bass playing evokes a powerful jazz feel throughout, giving the sessions an air of a frenetic post-bop session gone slightly mad. “Silently” takes a distinct free jazz approach, aided in large part by the album’s one guest appearance, in the form of Pierre Grill’s welcome piano (Grill, incidentally, engineered the album, and it was recorded at his Rendez-Vous Studio in Honolulu’s Manoa Valley).
“Silently” is one of Submerging Silently’s standouts, in addition to the epic “Submerging”, which, clocking in at 15 minutes, has the added benefit of being utterly unhurried as the trio let the music deliberately unfold. There’s a languid, almost droning approach to the song’s presentation as if the musicians are vamping, waiting for the sparks to fly. The music comes in gentle waves as Cheli’s soft percussion racket provides the bed underneath Ackerley’s jazzy notes and DeWald’s chunky bass clusters. There are some odd moments, particularly in the final minutes of the song, when Ackerley’s foreboding employment of distortion under single repetitive notes almost sounds like a frantic alarm, and – true to form – bass and percussion rise to the occasion, resulting in a frantic, enveloping concoction of noise, before the trio relaxes and shuts down.
Submerging Silently is being released on Cacophonous Revival, the label run by Samuel Goff (also responsible for Morning/mourning, Ackerley’s excellent 2021 solo guitar album), and their Bandcamp page states: “Our aims and goals will be to not be constrained by genre or geography but to have a unifying theme. One of passion, excitement, and experimentation in music.” This latest release never strays from those principles and embraces them wholeheartedly. It’s a refreshingly simple approach – three highly talented musicians meeting in a studio and letting their collective inspiration guide them.