Reflection on Sighs Too Deep For Words

“ . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans

When does sound, or the absence of sound, become language?

Where do prayer and music become one?

What is a moment?

How can the self be controlled by the subconscious?

These questions are the heart of Sighs Too Deep For Words, an improvised composition held together by performance. The crafting of this work began almost as research, an investigation as to how I could create an environment for myself in which the improvised moment would be so heightened, so amplified, that I would be forced to concede to my subconscious mind. I wanted to push the boundaries of my abilities as an improviser and performer, when I would have to stay faithful to the concept of mindfulness and remain fully present in each moment. And I was interested in time, long time, when the clock ceases to be a consideration.

This film is one document of Sighs Too Deep For Words, captured in front of an intimate audience in a recording studio in Chicago on a chilly March evening. There were earlier performances in recital halls, schools, churches, galleries, jazz clubs. Each was a moment unto itself with successes and failures. This document is no different, there is nothing perfect here. Like the others, this performance simply exists, like a flame. I’ve never seen a wrong flame.

This is music, yes, but I believe it inhabits a space just beyond music, where sound and silence speak the language of prayer. This is an honest assessment. I mean no pretense. If I interpret the words of Saint Paul correctly, when words fail, sound and silence have the potential to become a kind of sigh and that sigh can reach the ear of God.

James Falzone
Easter Day 2012

Recorded live March 19, 2011 at Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago
Engineered by Alex Inglizian
Mixed by James Falzone and Alex Inglizian at ESS
Filmed and edited by Ryan Nanni and Will Johnson
Please Note: this is a live performance. No edits or overdubbing techniques were used. A few post-concert shots were “cut-in” but otherwise what you see and hear is what transpired in real time.

Thanks and Acknowledgements
Many thanks to Lou Mallozzi for inviting me to perform on ESS’s 2011 Outer Ear Festival and Adam Vida for coordination of the event.

Sincere thanks to Alex, Ryan and Will for documenting the event so thoughtfully and skillfully.

An extra level of thanks to the souls who made up the listening audience on the night of the performance. This documentation would not have been possible without you.

This project is dedicated to my children: Giordana, Josette, and Luciano so that they will always have some way to know me.

I think of Sighs Too Deep For Words as a kind of conversation I’ve been having with other artists and works. Though not exhaustive, this list would include:

Olivier Messiaen
Thomas Merton
Andy Goldsworthy
Thich Nhat Hanh
Philip Groning’s remarkable film Into Great Silence
John Cage
Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales


"James Falzone is a tremendously likable, alert, no-nonsense improvising clarinetist from Chicago. Mr. Falzone’s music is thoughtful and often quiescent, but he can play hard to the breaking point. He likes history, but he’s not only repping for one tradition."
~ Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

"The finest improvising clarinetist in Chicago who is also one of the top genre-crossing reedmen in the country."
~Neil Tesser,

"Chicago clarinetist and composer James Falzone is a gem in a robust jazz mine, merging dynamic improv chops with classical compositions and a reverence for musical traditions."
~Scott Morrow, Alarm Magazine

"James Falzone is razor-sharp . . . with the possible exception of John Carter, no precedents for his work spring readily to mind, although it's clear that he could hold his own in more "correct" settings; technically correct as he is though, his prowess is no obstacle to personal expression."
~Nic Jones, All About Jazz

"An exquisite treat to hear Falzone re-score "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Memories of You," Six Appeal," and other Goodman repertoire in a sort of 21st century, post-Jimmy Giuffre version of small group swing. It was just lovely is all."
~ Patrick Jarenwattananon, National Public Radio's A Blog Supreme - 10 Great Moments from the 2009 Chicago Jazz Festival

"Falzone is a remarkable, in-the-moment improviser - able, as few virtuosi can, to listen as intently as he sings."
~Larry Kart, Author of Jazz in Search of Itself, Yale University Press

"The only way to sum up the style of Chicago clarinetist and composer James Falzone is to say that it can’t be done. Falzone is an inveterate genre-crosser, and though he squawks and swoops with some of the city’s best free improvisers, it’s his fluency in classical and ethnic European cultures that set him apart. . . . an already important Chicago voice."
~Matthew Lurie, Time Out Chicago

"Falzone is one of the city’s most focused and inquisitive clarinetists, and his compositions favor a rigor and precision that’s rare."
~Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

"Composing yearning lyrical lines filled with dramatic turns of phrase and dynamic shifts in mood, Falzone's writing style blends the angular rhythmic punch of Henry Threadgill with the folksy, subdued lyrical quality of Jimmy Giuffre and the esoteric mysticism of Olivier Messiaen."
~Troy Collins, Cadence Magazine

"Falzone treated the listeners to an interconnected set of contemplative Arabic and Turkish-flavored music, complete with fluent improvisations from all members. Of particular interest was Falzone's idiomatic use of microtonality."
~Elena Talley, The Clarinet, December 2008 (reporting on the 2008 International Clarinet Festival in Kansas City, MO)

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