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Henry Flynt - New American Ethnic Music Volume 4: Ascent to the Sun

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Artist: Henry Flynt

Album: New American Ethnic Music Volume 4: Ascent to the Sun

Label: Recorded

Review date: Jun. 7, 2007

“For me, innovation does not consist in composing European and academic music with inserted ‘folk’ references. It consists in appropriating academic or technical devices and subordinating them to my purposes as a ‘folk creature.’”
- Henry Flynt, The Meaning of My Avant-garde Hillbilly and Blues Music

Henry Flynt has had a long and varied career both in and out of music. In the 1960s, he was part of the New York loft scene, hanging out with Yoko Ono and La Monte Young, sitting in with the Velvet Underground, creating music inspired by John Cage, and writing conceptual-philosophical screeds about the nature of art and leftist politics (all of which are available for endless perusal on his website, henryflynt.org). In the 1970s, he joined Terry Riley and La Monte Young as a student of Pandit Pran Nath and put on at least one concert/installation at the Kitchen, while almost completing a PhD in economics from the New School. The ’80s and ’90s saw him abandon music (in 1984) to focus solely on philosophy and art but not before recording a couple raga-like sessions with C.C. Hennix. Which brings us to the present decade that has seen somewhere near a dozen reissues of Flynt’s archival recordings, but no new material until this disc, recorded in 2004.

Even after 25 years off, Flynt’s sound hasn’t changed a bit. There is a direct line from Back Porch Hillbilly Blues of the early ’60s through 1980’s Purified By the Fire ending here, at Ascent to the Sun. However, instead of using delay pedals or tambura as accompaniment for his electric violin, Flynt is accompanying himself. Flynt has taken pains to make his violin sound unlike any violin this reviewer has ever heard. The sound is timbrally rich, especially when he plays double-stops, but it isn’t distorted; rather, the amplification emphasizes the natural dissonances inherent in the violin’s tone. John Cale and Leroy Jenkins come close, but the former lacks the rawness and the latter the amplification.

Over the course of a single 41-minute piece, Flynt covers his entire musical career, from his modified bluegrass style to his fascination with Hindustani music, from his association with La Monte Young, to his admiration of Coltrane’s spirituality. The result is an ecstatic hybrid of improvisations on the harmonic series via modified fiddle licks with occasional ventures into darker, modal territory. And when Flynt returns to the overtone series, it’s with raucous shouts straight out of Charles Mingus. As the piece progresses, it becomes clear that Flynt isn’t just traveling wherever his fingers take him. He is paying careful attention to every little detail and idea, bringing themes back in really exciting ways when you least expect them. It’s clear that Flynt hasn’t lost a step in his down time, and let me be the first to say that I hope he starts actually performing again. The world needs more music from Henry Flynt, and this disc is a great start.

By Dan Ruccia

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