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Flaherty/Kelley/Corsano - Sannyasi

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Artist: Flaherty/Kelley/Corsano

Album: Sannyasi

Label: Wet Paint

Review date: Jul. 29, 2002

It’s probably dumb to pursue a metaphor that will annoy half our readership, but what the hell: Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano are a free-jazz version of the Strokes. The Strokes sound like a ‘70s art-punk band, but not any particular ‘70s art-punk band—critics often compare them to the Velvet Underground and Television, but neither reference really describes how they sound. Instead, the Strokes are an amalgamation of all the best ideas—or at least the most pop-friendly ideas—of Television, VU, Iggy Pop and any number of other ‘70s artists. The Strokes take advantage of hindsight: they steal most of their moves from the ‘70s, but their temporal distance from the actual ‘70s lets them pick only the bits that feel right to twenty-first century ears.

Flaherty and Corsano sound nothing like the Strokes, and a large majority of twenty-first century ears would still find the duo’s music a tough listen. But like the Strokes, the two musicians use their historical perspective to grab the best features of their genre (in this case, skronking free improv) and incorporate those features into a seamless sound. By the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, many musicians who inspired Flaherty and Corsano—like Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, and Frank Wright—were playing so wildly and harshly that their music didn’t bear much similarity to bop or other earlier forms of jazz, except in that it was improvised on traditional “jazz” instruments. A lot of their music still sounds amazing, but every so often, one of the musicians will repeat a phrase a few too many times, as if he isn’t sure where to go next. Or he’ll play a line that trails off without a clear ending, as if he’s losing steam. These sorts of blemishes are incredibly minor when measured against the fire and sense of discovery present in, say, McPhee’s Trinity, but they’re still there.

Which is where Flaherty and Corsano come in. Flaherty, a saxophonist, and Corsano, a drummer, have digested the back catalogs of free-noise giants like Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray and Noah Howard, and the duo has had time to think about what makes its brand of sweaty, squealing free improv work. Which isn’t to suggest that Ayler’s or Murray’s or Howard’s music didn’t work, just that Flaherty and Corsano have erased any trace of awkwardness from their sound. Every burly saxophone line starts and ends purposefully, and every flailing drum flourish lands exactly where it’s supposed to.

The metaphor only goes so far, though, because Flaherty and Corsano’s music isn’t nostalgic or referential like the Strokes’. Flaherty and Corsano rarely wink at the listener or offer smirky quotations of their influences. The Strokes, with their bare-bones production and self-consciously “street” look, are referencing an earlier time in rock history, whereas Flaherty and Corsano’s music seems to come from them, not from free improvisers of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Their 2001 duo album The Hated Music, then, was gorgeous and rousing because it managed to pick the best parts of a fertile area of music history while still feeling as if it existed for the present.

Now Flaherty and Corsano are back with Sannyasi, which offers seven more bursts of careful yet flamboyant free improvisation. The duo is joined by trumpeter Greg Kelley, who fires blasts of fast, high-register, staccato lines that contrast nicely with Flaherty’s playing, which is a bit less frantic than it was on The Hated Music. Sannyasi’s feel, though, is similar to that of its predecessor: both albums are characterized by intense splashes of bombast that sit comfortably next to more pensive passages. The three musicians push and pull each other with utmost sensitivity, and, unlike a lot of other free jazz, their music jumps from mood to mood quickly and logically.

Flaherty, Corsano and Kelley’s music superficially sounds a lot like free improvisation from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but don’t let that distract you: their music is distinctively theirs, and they’re playing it with considerable skill. More free improv fans need to hear Flaherty, Corsano and Kelley, and Sannyasi is an excellent introduction to their work.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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