Sunday, May 13, 2007

Paul Flaherty, Chris Corsano And Friends

Paul Flaherty - Whirl Of Nothingness (Family Vineyard 2006)
Dream/Aktion Unit - Blood Shadow Rampage (Volcanic Tongue 2006)

Every now and again, just when you think it has been exhausted, noise music experiences a power-surge and reminds you that there is life in the old workhorse yet. Two albums from last year have caught my attention - both featuring Paul Flaherty, a veteran free music saxophonist. For a number of years now Flaherty has been playing and recording with demon drummer Chris Corsano in what you might term a power duo (as well as being integral parts of other combos) - there is a lovely affinity between the pair, both employing a safety-net free approach to their playing. Call me a sentimental old cove, but there is something about the relationship between Corsano and Flaherty (who is old enough to be his father) that I really like.
Flaherty has been around for years honing his skills - intense ecstatic screams and cries with little sparkles of melody rising out of the roar every so often. He has set Fire Music alight again. What interests me is his willingness and open-mindedness in playing with musicians from other disciplines; there is a snobbishness and prissiness about many in even the free jazz scene - odd in a music dedicated to total freedom. Corsano plays with a bewildering number of bands - notably Sunburned Hand Of The Man (or are they just 'Sunburned' now?) and Six Organs Of Admittance. He is part of an extended scene (not the right word, more like a loose circle of friends) that includes people such as Wolf Eyes, Burning Star Core and Thurston Moore. Noiseniks all. Like Flaherty, Corsano plays free jazz and noise and avant rock and everything else he puts his mind to because free minded musicians disregard labels, right?

Flaherty and Corsano

Flaherty's Whirl Of Nothingness, though, finds him in that most unforgiving territory - solo. Just him and his sax, nowhere to hide. Eight pieces, improvised in one evening, of raw but structured chaos tempered with moments of intense prettiness. The album is explicitly spiritual in intent, dedicated to "all the victims yet to come" (that's all of us, Flaherty points out).
Comparisons between Flaherty and other free jazzers are perhaps inevitable, but bandying around such descriptions as 'post-Ayler' or 'post-Brotzmann' tend to miss the point - this music isn't "post" anything, it is right here, right now. Flaherty himself has used the term 'freeform abstract music' to describe the sound that comes out of his horn and that'll do for me, straight from the horse's mouth.

Dream/Aktion Unit

Dream/Aktion Unit, on this occasion, comprises Flaherty and Corsano with Thurston Moore doing his guitar thing, Heather Leigh Murray and Matt Heyner. The Flaherty/Corsano axis really kicks things along here, and of course, Moore isn't too shabby. Flaherty's sax gells with Moore's guitar work brilliantly - they have performed as a duo before (there is a wonderful video on the dread Youtube of them playing together, Moore's feedback dueling with Flaherty's blurts) and the whole thing is an exercise in controlled chaos and aggression; again, the flickers of melody, when they come, mean all the more for being embedded in good old dissonance. Too much sugar is bad for you, see? I don't know if this particular incarnation will reform again - but there is such a large scene featuring these people that it is inevitable that one or another combination of said reprobates will rub up against each other at some point.


Blogger murmurists said...

Great post, Anthony.

Corsano has a nice myspace, by the way. He's an interesting fella - improvising on several instruments. And this 'free style' thing seems to be a meaningful degree on or different from improvisation per se. It appears more agit prop. Improv is, some would say, a tad more academic and formulaic these days. I agree myself. The problem improv/noise et al has, I think, is akin to that adage about religion and consumerism: something like, the problem is not that a disbelief in god means people will not believe in god as a firm stand against things which cannot be proven, but that they will instead believe in anything else. Mumbo-jumbo, as it were, remains intact. So, in improv/noise etc., the problem is that a lack of insisting upon musicality and facility with an instrument - which takes years to learn, and so, for some, feels elitist and an impediment - gets you lots of stuff which uses the conventions of free music and so-called experimentation AS CONVENTIONS, and so ends up conventional. Same with Conceptual Art. I have this issue I periodically rehearse - re punk and prog - on similar lines: that Buzzcocks song, Pete S gtr solo, one note, stares into camera, saying 'look - one note', a statement, supposedly against prog excess and the idea of virtuosity. Sure enough, longwinded soloing is base, academic. I've seen Joe Satriani - on a G3 tour, because Fripp was part of the bill, I should say. Fucking awful; worse thing I've ever had to sit through. Like glass-blowing - for 5 mins one thinks, yes physical technique, but then so what. That's craft, not art. Shelly made art. But doing that over and over on subsequent songs, especially as one gets better at playing, is artificial and just as tedious as any contemporary Dave Gilmour solo. Such things are routine. Experimental art says it is anti-routine by implication, but not in actuality. It relies upon this implied notion. But, in my experience, it is largely false. So improv gigs - with the inevitable tabletop guitar, cooky electronics, instruments played with anything but the things they should be played with. Avoid those tunes, mate! I once saw a guy 'play' a bass with a mobile-phone. He just used it as an over-sized, I would say not-fit-for-purpose, plectrum. He must have felt really out-there. But it was laughable and academic. Back to Shelly and that sort of stance... I feel it is limited, contingent, a too-topical approach. It made a great statement at the time, but now it's quaint and too easily inculcated into the mainstream. As I endlessly say - thankfully mostly in my own head - the best of Prog is still dangerous and difficult; whereas The Pistols etc. sound like cor blimey gov'na god bless ya sir. Punk had to Prog-out to get really good; and it was all that later stuff, what I call ProgPunk, which has lasting appeal, I think. Improv et al is looking for a similar moment now, in my view.

The bottom-line might be an arse to those who'd sooner not have to spend a long time getting good at something. But it really is a matter of learning and getting better. With that, though, one has to try to add to the variety of a chosen discipline and not simply, say, play fast scales ever-faster, or get more drums, or whatever. The same things remain and the best of anything is made from application and insight.

8:53 AM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

I haven't heard Corsano's stuff on other instruments -but I hear it's good. I've become a big fan of his manic percussive work, in spite of (or because of) him being the linear opposite of my beloved Klaus Dinger (actually there's a guy, Dinger, who has spent a lot of time rocking a punk/hippy crossover idea).
Yeah, so much of the free jazz field, like the noise field, has disappeared arsewards.
Flaherty, it seems to me, has dumped a certain amount of baggage endemic in the jazz field, free or otherwise - he has honed (I think, I assume) his technique to a stage where he can do what he wants to do without getting hung-up about it, or hung-up on certain political or whatever issues.
I agree with what you say about the conventions of free musics turning into just that - another set of prescriptions, another set of rules.
Jazz-wise, an over-reliance on technique, or technique as an end in itself has been one of the besetting sins - just as much a dead end as the avoidance of technique. Adding to the variety of a chosen discipline - that's a good way of putting it.

2:37 PM  
Blogger kek-w said...

I genuinely think Chris C is one of the best drummers around right now - at Minehead in december I saw him play with three different bands in one evening, all totally dif. genres...

I spoke v. briefly to Flaherty, fan-boyishly thanking him for a great set (with Corsano and Spender Yeh - who played violin with his teeth! And with two bows at one point!) - he really is an inspiration.

8:18 PM  
Blogger kek-w said...

Also: I think that Corsano's brother maight've played with James Chance...

11:10 PM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Yeah, I'd agree about Corsano - and when does he get the chance to sleep? He seems to play all the time.
I'd love to meet Flaherty - really admire his playing, and his way of going about things. Another hard worker. The Flaherty/Corsano/Yeh stuff I've heard has been great - I like the whole approach of these people, getting out there and doing it.

7:55 AM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

If I hadn't been so lazy I would have got off fat arse and got along to Minehead - some of my favourite ever musicians were there, as I recall.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Can I just lower the tone by saying how cool that guy's beard is?

Do you reckon he could hide his sax in it?

10:47 AM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

I'm always in favour of lowering the tone. Flaherty looks something like an Old Testament prophet, he's got that Terry Riley/Robert Wyatt thing.

7:21 AM  

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