C. Spencer Yeh
A Rock in the Snow/Slow Blind Avalanche (with The Flaherty-Corsano Duo)
We couldn't ask for much more than the pairing of C. Spencer Yeh (a.k.a. Burning Star Core), Paul Flaherty, and Chris Corsano (yes, they're The Flaherty-Corsano Duo). The trio toured together last year with Wolf Eyes and Prurient (seems like a fun group of people to hang out with on a tour bus), and seeing as how these sessions are from the end of 2004, the documentation is long overdue.
Although virtuosity, high stimuli action, and unpredictable motion might seem like signatures of The Flaherty-Corsano Duo, the inclusion of Yeh causes the pair to listen and react in a way that sharply contrasts their activity alone together. In addition to violin and voice, C. Spencer Yeh brings the general timbres, pacing, and density of his compositions to these sessions. As though playing contrapuntally and bouncing off each other is second nature for Flaherty and Corsano (easier said than done), the trio formation sees them working more in vertical blocks of sound that don't always move forward linearly. There's still some badass soloing, but the effect of A Rock in the Snow (and, to a lesser extent, Slow Blind Avalanche) is not far from "Metastasis" by Iannis Xenakis (in which 61 instrumentalists play 61 entirely different parts). Although the numerous individual parts are the key to making these sounds, the effect is less about one's individuality and more about a total sound experience. For Flaherty, Corsano, and Yeh, it is also an attribute of their continual need to further the possibilities of improvisation.
A Rock in the Snow has the entire trio playing in high gear within a minute of its opening. Each seems as if he's getting the most sound he can possibly force out of his instrument, and as a group they paint with broad, all-encompassing gestures reminiscent of painter Mark Rothko. The music takes a breath after several minutes, but before long, their intensity comes crashing back in with even more force than before, completely surpassing all expectations of improvisation. This level of endurance and unpredictability sets the tone for both albums and requires one to give in to its autonomous sense of direction. The end of "We Have to Check your Equipment for Bombs," the first track from A Rock in the Snow, is denoted by a fade out. It's an odd choice for improvised music, which is usually more given to capture a nebulous jam's natural progression in its entirety. It does, however, add a certain mystique to these sessions, similar to the albums of Amon Duul I and the Yahowha 13. Not only does this one fade-out give them the air of an LSD-gobbling hippie commune that eats, breathes, and sleeps music, it also reinforces the notion of what free jazz has always encapsulated; their music has an organic, living quality to it that captures a very specific moment in time. What we hold in our hands is merely a carbon copy of energy that has since dissipated into the atmosphere.
It might be more appropriate if the titles of the two releases had been interchanged. As an avalanche would indeed describe the overall tone of A Rock in the Snow, its companion LP, Slow Blind Avalanche, calls more attention to the individual voices buried within its CD counterpart. Here the performers give each other more space to solo and expand upon their own sound. C. Spencer Yeh is able to dissect his violin and presents us with ever-changing timbres on a microscopic level. In addition to his mastery of the violin, his churning vocal growls exhibit the same hybrid of acute precision and ferocious explosion. Paul Flaherty's sax playing gracefully jumps octaves and shifts from glass-shattering tones to rich melodies in a way that's nothing short of remarkable. Although his mastery of extended technique is reminiscent of flautist Robert Dick and other 20th Century performers who are destined to find new tones outside the conventions of their traditional instrument, Flaherty also plays with a fiery soul and passion rarely seen since Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp. In the liner notes by Johnny Coorz (a.k.a. John Olson of Wolf Eyes), he tells an urban legend of Flaherty dying his beard while copying secret manuscripts regarding his horn technique. Rumor or not, his sound is indeed an accumulation of decades of growth and refinement. And finally, Chris Corsano, who's quickly become one of the most interesting drummers of the decade: he has the power to make time elastic, and no matter how cacophonous his playing may sound, it's always done with impeccable precision. He makes every note poignant and never devolves into a random pastiche of sound.
Despite being from the same sessions as A Rock in the Snow, the nuances and subtleties are easier to detect on Slow Blind Avalanche. Although it's only a limited-edition LP at the moment, Slow Blind Avalanche is in no way merely supplemental material to its more readily available counterpart. Like the various discs that make up Pan Sonic's massive work Kesto, these albums are much like looking at the same thing from two different perspectives. Each successive release by these fellas, individually and together, sees them pushing themselves further, and these albums are crucial documents in their ongoing evolution.