Paul Flaherty/Chris Corsano

June 26, 2006

The Beloved Music
Family Vineyard FV 39

By Ken Waxman

A rare example of how primitivism can attain profundity, The Beloved Music is a coarse, forty-three-minute-slab of almost out-of-time energy music. Improvised in a live setting by alto and tenor saxophonist Paul Flaherty and drummer Chris Corsano, the three tracks are, in many ways, throwbacks to a time in the late 1960s, early 1970s, when tone, texture, and arrangement were secondary to emotional expression.

Flaherty and Corsano may be impassioned, but they’re not blatant. In contrast to true folk musicians who have a limited sonic vocabulary and can’t perform any other way, the two have willingly chosen this extreme mode of expression. Careful listening reveals gradations and moments of raw beauty that are as evident here as in musique brut or industrial rock.

Born in 1948, the Hartford, Connecticut-based saxophonist has been playing this way for a long time, latterly with fellow masters of the genre like drummer Marc Edwards and reedists Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter. Member of the avant-rock group Sunburned Hand of Man, Corsano—born in 1975—began collaborating with Flaherty at the beginning of this century. Since then, the two have expanded their free-impov base to work with people like Jim O’Rourke and Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore.

Sophisticated in his own way, the saxophonist’s extensive multiphonics often sound as if they’re being wrenched from his lungs, scraped from the insides of his throat, or violently tongued, with or without a reed. Usually his vibrato is as wide as Albert Ayler’s, and his overblowing of freak notes in false registers as arresting as Peter Brötzmann’s.

But at the same time, on a tune like the eighteen-minute-plus “A Lean and Tortured Heart,” Flaherty at one juncture plays a few passages in a moderato, almost Stan Getzian-tone, before quickening his output to rougher shrieks and vibrations. Later, in context, his grinding drones and tongue-stopping snorts and buzzes suggest how rough-hewn hard bopper Hank Mobley could have played when interacting with Art Blakey’s volcanic drumming.

Here and elsewhere, Flaherty’s gnarled and snaky buzzes and extended split tones complement Corsano’s bag of percussion tricks, which in this case include rumbling bounces and flams that get speedier as they extend; a sharp drumstick dragged across the ride cymbal; door-knocking-like patterns; plus pummelling ratamacues, ruffs, and rebounds.

While the saxophonist’s glottal punctuation, plus shattered and flayed notes—as well as the drummer’s concentrated rolls, bangs and thunderous cross sticking—are superficially mind-numbing and monotonous, in truth they’re no more singular than a white-on-white or black-on-black painting. Considering the energy and pure physicality that goes into this sort of no-holds-barred improv, the performance can also be compared to action painting.

Taking the visual art metaphor one step further, together Flaherty and Corsano are like a mutant combination of Norval Morrisseau and Jackson Pollack. Just as those creators’ somewhat artless, definitively expressive works are now honoured, despite their initial disconnection from the accepted art of the time, so should we celebrate The Beloved Music’s total improvisation.