Paul Flaherty/Chris Corsano/C. Spencer Yeh

A Rock in the Snow
Important Records IMPREC 095

Paul Flaherty
Whirl of Nothingness
Family Vineyard FV43 CD

By Ken Waxman

With his long, white beard and unkempt hair, in many ways Paul Flaherty resembles the popular picture of an Old Testament prophet. The comparison is more than visual. Since he started recording almost 30 years ago, the Connecticut-based alto and tenor saxophonist has championed the regenerative properties of Energy Music, regardless of contemporary fashions.

Whirl of Nothingness and A Rock in the Snow, are typical no-holds-barred – and notable – additions to his testament. A prophet must have acolytes, and the presence of drummer Chris Corsano – Flaherty’s performing partner for about decade – and noise specialist, violinist C. Spencer Yeh, make appreciation of the later CD easier than Whirl, which is a solo session.

“Dedicated to the all victims yet to come”, Whirl is saved from being an hour of disconsolate misery by Flaherty’s vitality. Cynosure as a guide rather than the centre of attention, he outputs enough screaming, overblowing glossolalia to purify the sentiments of the eight tracks.

Take “If You Step Back Far Enough … It Will Be All Right” for instance. After a period, squealing prestissimo flutter tonguing gives way to more moderate, but (Albert) Aylerian multi-note phrasing. Then pressurized dog whistles slaver into circular whorls of energized tones. Additionally, the melisma apparent in “Firetrance Lonely Heartache Still” transforms giant swaths of heavily vibrated basso notes into intimations of an Eastern European dance tune. Meanwhile foreshortened melodies vibrate among dissonant timbres that sound as if abrasive notes are literally being rubbed against one another.

Finally, “Monsters Hide In Plain Sight Dark” meanders past rubato, honking timbres and bursts of flattement and extended double and triple tonguing to sonic catharsis with vocal Bedlam-like gurgles and screams that precede legato note twittering.

Similar vocalization is present from all three players on Snow, though no one could confuse these throat ejaculations with crooning or vocal harmonies. The final, shortest and weakest track is all vocal, but energetic shouting and whooping is put to better instrumental use on pieces like “Sixteen Waltzes in Seventeen Seconds”, which despite the title clocks in at 12½ minutes plus.

Yeh showcases incendiary triple stopping and Corsano untiring press rolls and ruffs from his kit, while Flaherty erupts with wide-bore diaphragm-centred cries. As the resulting sound field gets more crowded the three appear to ingest all adjacent air into their instruments, with the track climaxing with a dazzling display of cross handed and patterned rebounds and drags from the drummer.

On earlier tunes, the saxophonist’s swaggering reed snarls and note-gulping squeals and snorts evolve in triple counterpoint with pressured spiccato slices from the fiddler and the drummer’s blunt rim shots and cymbal scrapes. Constantly polyphonic, every note cluster from each performer seems to consume more space than the next, whether it is guttural reed obbligatos or flying staccato from the strings.

Definitive as uncompromising freedom music, be warned that the exhilaration is tinged with claustrophobia. Nearly every track is loaded with intensifying tension, but satisfying release is practically non-existent.

In MusicWorks Issue #98