Nashville's Barry Walsh spent decades as a go-to pianist iconic musicians pursued when they wanted the best. How many other piano men can claim Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, and Alex Chilton on their résumés? But that's only one part of a fascinating story. Walsh is not only a hell of a pianist, but a fine composer as well. In his work one can hear the modernism of Erik Satie, the line-blurring jazz pianism of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett, classical minimalists (Reich and Glass), and ambient strategists such as Brian Eno and Michael Brook, but his musical vocabulary -- as displayed on 2008's The Crossing and 2012's Paradiso -- displays a range that seamlessly incorporates everything from Copland to Ray Charles. Silencio is not just the next step in his evolution, but a leap. Spending over two years in his home studio, Walsh sat down whenever there was time "to focus on space and restraint...the space between the notes." To get there, he appears not only on piano, but selectively on accordion, glockenspiel, guitar, and synth. He is accompanied by cellist John Catchings. The title track opener is makes elliptical chord voicings manifest by resonant reverb. A whispering synth slips through them almost imperceptibly. The space "between" is inside the articulation of played notes, the space created by their echoes and the electronic keyboard that comments on their resonances. The pianist and Catchings touch on Ravel in "Prague." The cello's wistful sonorities add an elegiac dimension to Walsh's languid melody. "The Ice Storm" quotes from his own "Exeter Cathedral." But the addition of the accordion adds a more complex emotional element; it suggests a dramatic tango reminiscent of Piazzolla's more streamlined moments. The coloration by glockenspiel and the strategic key changes balance that impression, though, to offer a gentler sense of release. "Escape Velocity," co-composed with his son Brennan, uses the same instruments but is buoyed by the younger man's spectral electric guitar playing. Rhythm and melody interlock, creating a natural sense of flow that evolves into something otherworldly. In "Belgian Afternoon," one can hear Satie, but the feel is more redolent of continental chamber jazz in the dialogue between piano and cello. There is also a sly yet lovely quote from Bacharach in the melodic line. Harmonic interplay between those two instruments on "The Violet Hour" suggests the first part of Glass' Metamorphosis emotionally, yet its more complex strategy and detailed articulation put it in a class of its own; the explorations of shape and texture deliver brooding utterances and shadows. Silencio is breathtaking in approach and imagination. Walsh's methodology is based on an intrinsic aesthetic that serves music first. Whatever is called for in a given tune is conjured: from inspiration, the unshakeable spirit of inquiry, practiced discipline, and the willingness to discover rather than dictate. While a number of younger composers have absorbed the same influences, none of them approach Walsh's creative reach or emotional warmth.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek