Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano
The Beloved Music
n the midst of an unforgiving Atlanta July, there was Hamid Drake, all dreads, dashiki, and smiles, reclining right in a brutal patch of sun eating a slice of pizza with nary a bead of sweat to be found. Hours later Drake was swimming in sweat as were his compatriots, the late great bassist Fred Hopkins and Teutonic tenor howler Peter Brötzmann; Drake moved effortlessly from mild coloration to martial stomp; Hopkins fell in line, his bass alternating between fathom-deep smears and pure Ghanaian stomp.
Brötzmann, when he wasn’t graciously allowing space for his partners to spar in, was pacing the floor, stalking something and nothing, blowing fanged scrawls from his taragato; cheeks inflating and deflating, forehead and throat roughing into tight red rashes; sweat slipping off the temples. This was paroxysmal, ecstatic mug-scratching shit that could’ve been constricted under a handful of rickety labels. Watching and hearing these three was no different than watching and hearing Agnostic Front, Napalm Death, or Neil Young & Crazy Horse riding into squalls of unforgiving white noise. It was impossible to sit still; people were rocketing out of their seats, dancing, screaming; lurching along to the Big Fucking Beat. Guitar guru and co-owner of avant imprint Antiopic David Daniell recorded the trio that evening; I remember him on the periphery, checking levels, positioning microphones. Weeks later I asked him about the yield.
“No matter how great the recorded music sounds, I really feel like listening to Brötzmann is an incomplete experience,” said Daniell. “You’ve got to see his face turning red; him pacing the stage, screaming into his saxophone.” Daniell’s recording was good enough to see release as The Atlanta Concert via Okka Disc, but as no fidelity can come close to the visual reap, the one-sided empirical experience is just that, a bluntly hewed face bereft of feature. The same can be said for New England duo Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano; Paul replete with wildman beard and The Big Breath; Chris, the “jackrabbit on crack” as Ben Chasny so deftly determined, a seemingly octolimbed mass of pure rhythmic energy.
Nearly three years ago to the day, Paul and Chris rolled into Atlanta after playing a string of house parties in Kentucky and Tennessee. Chris set up his mismatched drum kit; Paul cleared his alto’s throat and they began.
Chris’ sticks were splintered, cracked, shards of broken wood held together with duct- and electrician-tape; there were mallets, their fluffy heads slapped into confused clouds; there were brushes, their metal bristles smacked into soft repose. Wasting no time with utilization, Chris worked sticks around and into his kit, socking cymbals, kicking kick-drum, slapping toms and rolling over the whole Goddamn thing in wave after wave of roiling rhythm. Paul played into and through the din, tones torn into small screams, messily finger-painted onto the far wall; shrieks rose without warning and detonated in emotive suggestion—pain, ecstasy, dissatisfaction. When their first piece was broken down, a finished tale dissipated into thin air, the whole place erupted; people weren’t just applauding; they were screaming—I was screaming; approval could only be conveyed via primal, wild-eyed and knuckle-dragging means.
The duo was recorded that evening and I thankfully possess a copy—a CD-R burn that I’ve studied more than listened to. Sometimes Chris’ drumming hammers Paul into the wall; other times Paul’s sax slinks out, sliding under feet, fastening arms and hands down; freezing them for a few minutes. When the duo wasn’t giving one another the spotlight, they were roaring through ten to twelve minute improvisations—raucous, ear-bleeding melees whose thorny expanse seemed impossible to accommodate the hand-in-hand walking waltz. Listening to them will lead any ears to the conclusion: They are communicating; they’re only doing it at extreme volume and varying levels of face-peeling intensity. The Beloved Music is a case-in-point, with the duo dismantling each other’s sonic contributions with carefully plotted device. Skeletal polyrhythms spill over into flesh-‘n’-blood pulses; cymbals burst around hemorrhaging drumheads. Chris has never sounded better, as singular struts slip into duo exchange with little effort. Significantly, the attack moves from extended technique to traditional stick-‘n’-cymbal smash, bloodletting beats only heard previously via eBay wrangled Actuel vinyl.
With Paul, breath and brass configure in theophanic ways, recalling the best of Frank Wright or even Albert Ayler. His playing, especially on “A Lean and Tortured Heart,” is arterial in its sonic elasticity and communicative muscularity. Spit and scream, arpeggio and atonal yawp, fingers, breath and brain compete and converse, a gleefully ecstatic summit to thaw even the hardest of musical hearts. It’s impossible to capture weighty moments of this stripe, but The Beloved Music is a valiant—and nearly successful—effort.