Drummer Chris Corsano has plenty of steady partnerships, whether it’s in his various groupings with the fire-breathing western Massachusetts saxophonist Paul Flaherty, the Arabic-infused free-rock trio Rangda, or Vampire Belt, his splattery noise project with guitarist Bill Nace. But in a broader sense I think of him as a free agent, an improviser who ignores all boundaries and limitations and seems game for any challenge—playing and touring with Bjork or going head-to-head with the legendary British saxophonist Evan Parker. He’s a busy guy who crisscrosses the country—and the world, really—with consistent gigs in countless contexts. On Monday he rolls into town for a solo performance as part of ESS’s Option series, followed by a conversation with fellow percussionist Tim Daisy about his work.
Keeping up with Corsano is a daunting endeavor, but examining an assortment of recent releases reveals his versatility—he readily adapts to disparate contexts without surrendering his intense personality. Last year he turned up on This Is Our Language (Not Two)—the title is a nice Ornette Coleman salute—a superb quartet outing led by the Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, with Chicago bassist Kent Kessler and the brilliant Poughkeepsie multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, another guy whom Corsano has often worked with in recent years. The music is all improvised, but it’s firmly rooted in jazz, with superb interaction between all of the players, both on ripping, high-velocity blowouts and more delicate forays.
Below you can check out a piece called “Ritual Evolution,” with McPhee on a tart pocket trumpet. The piece begins delicately, as each player exercises impressive restraint, and then gradually they all turn up the heat. The entire album is one of many recent works that demonstrate a Corsano’s growing range. He’s often been celebrated for his unbridled energy—here he’s subtle, but at the same time he’s providing an essential kick to the proceedings.
That more explosive side is evident on last year’s All the Ghosts at Once (Relative Pitch), a scalding duo session with the Danish alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen. The Norway-based reedist is one the most exciting newcomers on the European scene, a player of uncompromising ferocity. On the track “How Many of These Things Do We Need Anyway?” her lines are blistering, as she pushes her instrument into its upper register with a drill-like precision. But as with Corsano, she’s a musician who’s able to pull back. At the start of “Exploding Foods” she briefly brings a kind of bebop buoyancy that summons Charlie Parker and a little Lee Konitz, but it dissolves into elliptic silences, longer striated tones, and Corsano’s percussive popping, which provides an undeniable pulse. Below you can check out one of the fierier pieces, “Contester.”
Finally, there’s a duo album with the Italian bassist Massimo Pupillo (of the band Zu as well as Peter Brötzmann’s Hairy Bones quartet) called Via Combusta (Trost). As you can hear on the impressive side-long piece below, “The Veil Is Thin Right Now,” the music isn’t nearly as in-your-face as one might expect; in fact, the first ten minutes or so cast a gorgeous ambient spell, albeit an ominous one, as elusive waves of quiet electronic textures drift and snake across the surface. I’m not sure who’s doing what—the credits only list Corsano on drums and percussion and Pupillo on electric bass—but it’s something very special. Eventually the rumbling, writhing bass kicks in, slithering within Corsano’s spacious clatter in characteristically liquid swells and dissonant eruptions. This pair could certainly summon a spaz-out postprog exercise a la Lightning Bolt, but what they present is far more rich, varied, and gripping.
Just about anyone who’s heard music at Elastic can probably envision the venue’s battered, white grand piano, regardless of whether or not they’ve seen a concert in which the instrument was played. If you’ve actually been to a show where it was—especially in the last year or so—you almost certainly got an impression of it; the keyboard was in rough shape and seemed to battle anyone who dared try to tune it. The venue has a well-maintained and much-needed Yamaha in its sights, but the $5,000 price tag is a bit out of reach for such a grassroots space, so Elastic has launched a campaign to help raise funds for it.
John Lewis & Svend Asmussen, European Encounter (Atlantic, Japan)
Maurizio Pollini, Chopin: Preludes (Deutsche Grammophon)
AGF, Source Voice (Line)
Various Artists, Beyond Berkeley Guitar (Tompkins Square)
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Recital 2000 (Deutsche Grammophon)