Sometime last year, I gave props to new releases by a bunch of D.C.-area record labels, one of which was Æthenor‘s Betimes Black Cloudmasses on VHF Records in Fairfax. VHF have just released something else that caught my ear – and no, not the new Æthenor, although that one is excellent as well.
No, this time it’s a product of improvisers Chris Corsano and Mick Flower. Corsano is a drummer very active in the world of free improvisation, has worked most extensively with saxophonist Paul Flaherty, but has also toured with the likes of Björk; Flower is mostly known for his playing in the UK drone group Vibracathedral Orchestra, and plays a shahi baaja, a kind of Indian electric dulcimer. This year’s The Four Aims on VHF, their second recording together as a duo, is 50 minutes of tremendous free improvisation.
Some of Corsano’s output is too hyper-aggressive for me (a perfect case in point is his album with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Immolation/Immersion), but while this duo with Flower is certainly not lacking in pyrotechnics, it’s quite nuanced and Flower’s timbral variations are more than enough to keep me interested. Flower often distorts the shahi baaja to such an extent that his playing sounds very much like the electric guitar explorations of, say, Raoul Bjorkenheim or Sonny Sharrock, but he also employs a clean tone with some frequency, one that has definite reference points in traditional Indian music. So while there is indeed a Scorch Trio-like feel to the more aggressive pieces on this record, the duo is also unafraid of toning it down.
On “The Three Degrees of Temptation,” Corsano avoids drums in favor of miscellaneous clattering percussion, while Flower strips all distortion away from his instrument, playing in an abstruse, squiggling style that builds tension without resorting to open aggression. The following track, “The Drifter’s Miracles,” sees Flower playing a pure drone while Corsano abandons his drum kit altogether, instead using a cello to bow soft moans underneath Flower’s hypnotic tones. There are hints of this kind of subtlety in nuance even in the louder pieces, which makes the whole album a compelling listen.