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Sunny Kim, Vardan Ovsepian, Ben Monder - Liminal Silence (Earshift Music)

9 November 2023

Liminal Silence, the culmination of a long-standing collaboration between Korean singer Sunny Kim, Armenian keyboardist Vardan Ovsepian, and American guitarist Ben Monder, is an album that defies categorization. Though Ovsepian and Monder, and to a lesser extent Kim, mainly swim in the jazz pool, to call it a jazz record is a mistake. Calling it contemporary classical, though, also feels wrong. There’s improvisation, sure, but the compositional structures feel too thought out to leave much room for that. But at the same time those structures unfold at their own pace, sometimes requiring the participants to wing it to keep up. That’s not through speedy tempos, either – each rhythm section-less track here relies on the tunes’ internal, unheard beats, with each musician at their most ethereal.

Monder lays down some tasty licks on occasion, but most of what he’s doing here floats on long sustain and longer chords. Same with Ovespian; he provides some chordal movement with his piano, but he provides more clouds, mist, and fog with his synthesizers. Kim’s keening voice sits at the heart of every arrangement – whether she’s singing understandable words or simply channeling the spirits, her voice provides the most direct communication across the songs.

There’s actually a fourth collaborator here, as hinted in the title: silence, whether it’s the air between notes, the pauses between breaths, or simply the soundless space that fills out every song when music itself isn’t playing. These songs invite us to not so much enjoy the silence, but accept it as part of the arrangements, part of this musical corner of the world – part of life.

So what do we call this distinctively artful beast? Jazz? Classical? Avant-garde? Other? Best to just call it Liminal Silence and leave it at that.