What did it mean for Guillaume Du Fay (ca. 1397-1474), chameleon-like expert in every musical genre of his day, to compose four settings of the Mass Ordinary toward the end of his life? Looking back from the vantage point of the next generation, when the polyphonic mass reigned supreme, it might be tempting to interpret these works as a self-conscious summa of Du Fay’s career – an achievement akin to Haydn’s London Symphonies or Beethoven’s late string quartets. On a purely musical level these comparisons are apt. Each mass stakes out unique musical terrain; they are often strikingly experimental; and the entire set is shimmeringly beautiful from beginning to end, revealing a composer at the height of his powers.
Pianist Guillaume de Chassy insists that Silences is inspired by the example of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre's late-1950s trio recordings. To be sure, like those records, this album is marked by intimacy and introspection, a strong clarinet sound and no drummer. But Silences, recorded at a French abbey, doesn't sound much like Giuffre's records—nor indeed, like much of jazz, at first blush. It's not at first clear just what this piano-clarinet-bass formation is up to. The helpfully titled "Birth of a Trio" provides clues. It shows just how much this music shares with jazz—improvisation, first of all; and empathy, the musicians listening closely to each other, as for example when de Chassy's piano sidles up to Thomas Savy's soaring clarinet.