Giovanni di Domenico/Peter Jacquemyn/Chris Corsano

A Little Off the Top
NoBusiness NBLP 88

Rodrigo Amado

This Is Our Language

Not Two MW 922-2

By Ken Waxman

Stints with popsters like Sunburned Hand of Man and Björk in the late aughts hasn’t affected drummer Chris Corsano’s skill in contributing to improvised sessions. Instead the Massachusetts native, converted to free music after witnessing incendiary performances by Cecil Taylor and William Parker, brings the same animation and restraint to these discs as he’s used on dates with sound explorers including Evan Parker, Paul Flaherty and Akira Sakata.

Like someone whose bespoke outfit subtly proclaims high fashion, the drummer’s blend of animation and restraint is crucial. That’s because, without compromising his basic style, he’s crafty enough to forge a different strategy for each CD. This Is Our Language, for instance, is a high-energy sound eruption with Portuguese tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado plus fellow Yanks Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet and alto saxophone and bassist Kent Kessler. In contrast A Little Off the Top is a vigorous take on the jazz piano trio, with Corsano spelled by Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn and Brussels-based, Italian-born pianist Giovanni di Domenico.

Di Domenico, who has also partnered Sakata on several occasions, is a keyboardist to whom Corsano can easily relate. Like a fundamentalist preacher’s sermons, his playing makes no space for hesitation or fragility. Nearly every note is splashed out with a power-lifter’s determination, with textures clashing together like Mah-jong tiles and glissandi hammered into ferocious blurs. His playing isn’t without humor though. On the extended “Golondrina” hints of boogie-woogie and balladic pacing sneak in, then vanish, like insect chirps before a storm. Jacquemyn, who has worked with everyone from André Goudbeek to Fred Van Hove, is no musical milksop either. Adapt at col legno and other extended string techniques, his speed-of-light string slashes bumps and shakes often join inner-piano-string plucks to create pulsating rhythmic drones. Faced with bulky tone propelling from his trio partners, Corsano take the opposite approach. His response to these dual dynamics is to sweep and pat corrosive accents from his knit, working these gestures into a constantly flowing course of downplayed but swinging pressure points.

The paramount instance of this is “Tibutòn”. With the drummer patterning and breaking up the time alongside Jacquemyn’s rich viola-de-gamba-like droning tone, the pianist jabs staccato sounds into the continuum like flies landing on, but not sticking to, flypaper. Eventually the tremolo tune builds up to near time-suspension only to be brought to a satisfactory end by sandpaper-like rubs from the bass coupled with tremolo keyboard chiming

Nothing chimes, tinkles or plinks on the other disc. Without a chordal instrument the four press ahead with a ferocity that almost make di Domenico/Jacquemyn/Corsano seem like a chamber trio. But there’s also discipline beside the ferocity. Like accomplished athletes they know exactly when to lay back and when to go all out. Further evidence: Corsano’s deliberate polyrhythms and Kessler’s propulsive thumps aren’t even heard until the second track. Before that McPhee and Amada uses their saxophones to tease out the undulating theme as if slowly unrolling a carpet. When the others finally enter, it’s eventually to steady the beat behind McPhee’s pocket trumpet with which he sprinkles spicy grace notes all over the group compositions. McPhee’s idiosyncratic saxophone style has developed over the years, but there are points of congruence with Amado’s technique. Although more mellow is execution, as he demonstrates on the introductory “The Primal Word”, the Lisbon-based reedist is a pointillist, building up his solos in bites and slices until it jells into a gratifying whole. Perhaps because his initial instrument was trumpet, McPhee relies more on quick tonguing and repeated vibrations. Amado is also likely to unexpectedly blast a passage, while McPhee is more theatrical as he dribbles pure emotion from his saxophone.

Crucially, Corsano’s aptitude is given its showcase on “Ritual Evolution”. As the horn players splatter tones into the musical mix as if using Jackson Pollock’s drip technique, the drummer underscores the undulating color scheme with rumbles that sound as if he’s using hands and brushes on drum tops as to not upset the scene. When Amado finally creates a climatic folk-dance-like conclusion, he does this while mixing handsome guttural tones with exciting tremolo flutters from McPhee. As Kessler holds onto the beat, the drummer splashes out a tapestry of constantly undulating polyrhythms alongside him.

Corsano and the others easily confirm the truth of the title This Is Our Language. While the other title may be more fanciful, that trio too demonstrates its skill in the free idiom.

Tracks: Little: Side A: Golondrina Side B: Tibutòn; Slick Back

Personnel: Little: Giovanni di Domenico: piano; Peter Jacquemyn: bass; Chris Corsano: drums

Tracks: This: The Primal Word; This Is Our Language; Theory of Mind (For Joe); Ritual Evolution; Human Behavior.

Personnel: This: Joe McPhee: pocket trumpet, alto saxophone; Rodrigo Amado: tenor saxophone; Kent Kessler: bass; Chris Corsano: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record January 2016