The Strokes - "Is This It?" (RCA 07863 680451 1 Import vinyl)The Strokes are the band you love to hate: rich, lucky pretenders who made it by ripping off classic NYC no-wave songs by Television and Patti Smith. Or, that's the way some see it, anyway. Seems to me people were saying the same thing about Pavement ten years ago: article after article in the San Francisco free weeklies urging members of the Pixies and the Fall to file lawsuits against the young guns from Stockton. I hate rich snotnoses as much as the next guy, but I've listened to this record for a few months now, and I have to admit, it's a pretty good album. It's straight-out rock that manages to lope along at a pretty right pace without losing its essential air of relaxation, like the druggie kid who's still pretty good at soccer. Songs like "Alone, Together" have a distinctly early-80s Devo vibe, while "Last Nite" and "Someday" take a trip to the cabaret - they'll have you thinking the junkies have taken over Monte Carlo. The bassist is no Jaco Pastorius, but for some reason I get the feeling he's the one to keep the ship running; when the kick-drum locks in time with those jaunty, percolating bass lines and the guitars start slashing harmlessly all Doug Yule era, you can't help but open your heart to these Strokes fellas. Bottom line: you might want them dead, but it's really not a bad album.
Me, I love free jazz. Why it is "the hated music" I don't understand. I mean I do understand and all. But for me, live unamplified free jazz played by righteous players like Test, Flaherty/Corsano, Other Dimensions in Music, David S. Ware Quartet (sorry for the NY bias here, it's where I live) can be breathtakingly satisfying.
I don't know what makes saxophonist Paul Flaherty tick, just what effect his music has on me. He's kinda old, with a long white beard that makes him look like a beatnik wizard. As far as I know he lives in Connecticut, where he has been playing at least twenty years. It should tell you something that a free jazzer, one in my opinion the equal of anyone in his age cohort, chooses NOT to move a hundred miles to New York where gigs and audiences are easier to find. If I might speculate on this choice, it seems that Flaherty's music is a very personal expression, and whether we are there to watch him fell trees in the musical forest is of little consequence to him. Either that or he is so shy that we should bow down with gratitude to the gods that we get to hear his beautiful music at all. Recordings of him with Randall Colburne began appearing in the late 80s, and you can pick these up, still on vinyl in several cases, from Cadence mail order-labels include Cadence, Tulpas, and his own(?) Zaabway. In the last few years, he's been working with a young drummer named Chris Corsano.
I think I'm a lot closer to knowing what makes Corsano tick. Corsano is a very nice, generous guy in his 20s, making music since his teens, who has put out a couple of records, including Ayler's Angels and the Thurston Moore/Phil Milstein collab, on his wonderfully-named Hot Cars Warp Records label. Now, Thurston and Corsano's real-life boss Byron Coley return the favor to put out this disk. (Chris works at Father Yod mail-order in Northampton, www.yod.com, and probably the easiest place to source this disk.) So Chris is a hip young musico, one who has enough self-confidence to approach the gods of the indie rock demimonde. The thing is, he is a really fantastic drummer, who plays with total conviction and great chemistry in his May/December partnership with Flaherty. As Byron Coley says in the liner notes, "His drumming style has gobbled & spit out every era of loft dynamism, and enspunked it w/ the twinned jiz-trails manifest in post-core free-rock power kuck and European chamber flux existentialism." Yeah.
Further to that, the cover and liners are pretty excellent. Each of the six songs is imagined in the liners as some event in New England or music history wherein a saxophonist and drummer end up improvising together. And the cover is a very entertaining drawing of demented looking musicians and an audience of animals done in the style of a colonial woodcut. Too bad it's not reproduced in the larger lp size.
The fact that this here cd is a cd and not two living men (or even an lp) definitely changes the equation from the bliss they achieved live. The absolute beauty that gushes from Flaherty's horn (and when I say beauty I mean more than merely pretty) is diminished by the recording and digitizing and aural discombobulating. As I listen to this cd, I long for the guts characterize Flaherty's sound in person-here it's more a skeleton, which is to say typical by today's digital jazz recording standards. That said, this is an excellent album, consistently compelling, spacious, questing, an existential tour de force. If you let it, it will take you there. Next time you're trying to decide whether to take a chance on some major-label mediocrity, buy this instead. I don't think you'll regret it.
To read more, buy issue one.