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There’s something incredibly exciting about hearing a masterful musician create masterful music. For me it’s a feeling of joy that makes my chest expand and pulls my cheeks into a wide smile like they’re on puppet wire. Such was my first reaction to Shawn Myers’ debut album, The Silent Life, released in March of this year.
From the first track, ‘Invocation’, an ambient song underscoring the thought-provoking poetry that defines this album’s tone, the hairs stood up on my neck like they were standing for applause. Then they just… stayed there, for the full hour of the record.
Myers has established himself as a percussionist of the highest order in the New Orleans jazz scene, playing with the genre’s top names — Kenny Werner, author of Effortless Mastery, Nduduzo Makhathini, and Sarah Quintana to name just a few — as well as studying percussion in Ghana & Haiti.
It shows in The Silent Life. So much of the album is rich in the drumming styles Shawn Myers has spent his life learning. ‘Arroyo Laguna’ heavily features these fascinating techniques, but that’s just one example. The whole album is sewn together like a tapestry of Myers’ career, exemplifying his journey to becoming a master musician.
The stress and hustle of a musician’s life is certainly not the ethos of this album however. The Silent Life gives reference to the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, an Indian musician who taught Islamic mysticism through music. He claimed the vibration of sound only exists through the stillness of silence.
It’s this profundity that pushes the album along. Every sound and musical choice seems to exemplify a mystical peace, or a stillness of the soul. Cymbal crashes throughout the album give a mysterious air to every track, while electronic elements provide depth and breathing room. This is particularly evident on ‘The Shifting Gates’, an erratic, thoughtful track displaying Myers’ enormous percussion skill.
What is admirable about the album is, despite high concepts and the jazz genre, that it isn’t only for the jazz snob. Hearing this album in a cafe, nobody would storm out. It’s so smooth, so at peace, that it can slot in anywhere like a faulty jigsaw piece. There’s an incredible amount of skill here for the jazz novice to digest — ‘Tali Danse’ & ‘Lake Solitude’ exemplify this — but it doesn’t turn away the casual listener at the door.
Ultimately, this album is a work of art. The hairs on the back of my neck are still sure of it. Exceptional levels of music skill and theory application are on display, without sacrificing casual “listenability”. This allows The Silent Life to tread that sweet spot between contrived and pretentious. Shawn Myers executes this balancing act extremely well.