Don’t let the elegant title and tasteful cover fool you; Deborah Martin and Jill Haley’s “The Silence of Grace” is a groundbreaking album! It offers a unique mix of ambient melodies and textures layered together with Oboe and English horn. It is a soundscape that feels both familiar and alien. The album explores various locations in the Pacific Northwest, yet its inspiring sound can take your imagination almost anywhere.
“The Silence of Grace” marks Deborah Martin’s 30th Anniversary with Spotted Peccary Music. “Under The Moon” is the name of her breakthrough album, released in 1995. She has so far released 10 albums under her own name. She has also worked with artists such as Erik Wøllo and the Hemi-Sync project (to which she has contributed four albums). Last year, Martin and Dean De Benedictis – under the group name Desensitized – released the album “Hemispherica Portalis”. In our review, we wrote that: “Like a well-written sci-fi novel, Desensitized’s music is world-building on a massive scale. This kind of ambient often feels experimental, but that is not the case with “Hemispherica Portalis”. The melodies seem to represent far-away and exotic cultures. That is a major accomplishment.”
Jill Haley is an oboist, English horn player, pianist, educator, and composer who has written and released seven recordings about the National Parks in the United States. Her most recent albums are “The Waters of the Glacier” (2018), “The Winds of the Badlands” (2019), and now in 2021, “The Canyons and the Mesas of Bandelier”.
The Silence of Grace
The title track opens the album. It unravels the idea behind “The Silence of Grace” in less than 30 seconds. Longtime fans of Deborah Martin will quickly pick up on her signature sound; it is rich and powerful, electric even. Your mind starts to wander, perhaps asking, what is this place? Where am I? Is this deep space a la Tangerine Dream or Jean Michel Jarre? Then magic happens. From nowhere comes the sounds of Haley’s Oboe, which drags the listener from a distant nebula and back to Earth, landing somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The Oboe brings a sense of humanity to the soundscape. Notice how Haley picks up on Martin’s ambient melodies and, in a way, both explains and completes them. I think it is phenomenal; It is a brilliant album opener!
All the pieces on the album are long, ideal for meditation, reading, or creative work. Each piece is a journey (much like the portals on “Hemispherica Portalis”) that takes the listener to a new destination. If you listen carefully to the start of “Indian Heaven”, you can almost hear and sense how the music “lifts” you up. It is a musical heaven filled with interesting sounds and textures, plus a distant, everchanging drum. Notice the different levels of sound and how you can zoom in and discover new elements on each listen. Ask anyone; this is world-class audio design!
On “Verdant Sanctuary,“ Martin gets the first minute all by herself before Haley cuts in and redefines the melody. Again, I’m struck by a musical déjà vu and how the Oboe humanizes the ambient melody. As a space music fan since the mid-1980s, I can say that I have never heard anything like it. The closest is perhaps Christel Veraart’s vocal (on “Pleiades” for instance), but all of that is “a million light-years away”. “Verdant Sanctuary“ feels earthbound, close enough to touch.
Next out is “Fountains”. It has a quite playful mood as if illustrating flowing water. I believe the fountain must be illuminated because it is a very colorful piece. It also shows Martin’s incredible synth skills, on par with Patrick O’Hearn, Suzanne Ciani, and Chuck Wild. True to its name, “Earth Stone Water Sky” masterfully sums up the building blocks of nature. I especially like the somewhat chaotic backdrop with bells, which indicates how nothing stays the same; everything changes. “From Fire Into Water” has a nice didgeridoo and percussion. It is interesting how rapid it changes and how different each part is.
The album closer, “Water Flows of Clouds and Thunder”, is almost like an EP within the album. The intro is a bit dark, but it is not to last. If you close your eyes, you will be airborne in no time with clouds all around. “Water Flows of Clouds and Thunder” gives your imagination angel wings.
In conclusion: Artists often claim that they do new and radical things, but usually, it is mere talk and unsubstantiated claims. On the other side of the scale is the quiet, soft-spoken “The Silence of Grace”, which truly offers a brand-new sound. It is in the tradition of Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” (1975) in the way that it is not trying to be unique, yet it still comes through as genre-defying and well ahead of the curve. Deborah Martin and Jill Haley have delivered a beautiful, well-made, and highly meditative album that will last long in any New Age music playlist. I hope that people take the time to enjoy “The Silence of Grace”. We sure need it.