Whirl of Nothingness
here are always the few that have come early; those that are alarmingly sober and awkwardly tight-lipped, looking amongst the gaggle of others to find a familiar face while the off-their-Paxil host nervously clanks ice into cups and charitably fills them with too much good liquor. Bona fide solo outings aren’t dissimilar from throwing your first party. Disregard the fact that hours and too much good liquor later people will be fucking in your bathroom and stomping around to your Kiss records. The moment is now: put on a big, red nose and entertain your invites. Paul Flaherty has eschewed the gag proboscis; he’s got only brass and wind.
With no props to focus on, there’s nothing to distract wandering ears. Sparse and makeshift from liners to breath, the tone is grave. There are eight spontaneous improvisations for alto and tenor saxophone, all saddled with evocative titles—“Waiting to Be Lifted onto the Flames;” “Shattered Scenes of Blinding Burst;” “Sweetly Danced in Times of Hurtful Pleasure.” The words speak to desperate times; media histrionics; plentiful polemics: wars and rumors of wars—the Technicolor Apocalypse. Meanwhile, Flaherty ruminates, whispers, screams, laughs, and cries. As with Barnett Newman, the too-big tone distracts from the subtle delicacy. While throaty hiccoughs may roar into monochromatic blah, Flaherty slips microscopic subtleties into the picture, distracting the listener from the emotional panoply depleted: he’s at times distracted, engaged, and indifferent; other times irritated, nuanced, attentive to detail.
Flaherty sometimes sounds as if he’s arguing with the walls, spited by taciturn stoicism. These bully fights are non-local; they are supposed to slug and swing until they tire their selves out; beaten black and blue by a go-nowhere fist-to-cuffs with a non-existent sparring partner. Sometimes the raving is tempered only to gather momentum, howling a gut-heaving belly wail: There’s nothing like a big, wet cry. The whooped puppy whimpers, hems and haws; inevitably, the cold nose searches out the master’s hand. Flaherty does float some joy in now and again—his heliated serenade eerily similar to Ayler’s balloon animal love song screech.
There’s no escaping the “people music” quality of Whirl; sitting with Flaherty may be a tête-à-tête, but it sounds and feels unmistakably like massive human contact where a shit, shower, and shave is as much a necessity as honest spousal communication. Hackneyed it’s not, as sharing “secrets” can keep one off the couch, just as a sax session can kick out the personal demons and invite the angels in. Flaherty certainly knows this; sometimes the best parties are the ones you have all by yourself.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2006-08-18