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Paul Flaherty - Voices

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Artist: Paul Flaherty

Album: Voices

Label: Wet Paint

Review date: May. 21, 2003

Extroverted Solo Free Jazz

In the past thirty years, the scope of free improvisation has widened significantly, and it’s now common for improvisers to look to modern classical music, electronic music, environmental sounds and non-western music for inspiration. Performers like Joe Maneri have developed new ways of using microtones, while others, like nmperign, have moved away from free improv’s usual line-based approach to phrasing by emphasizing texture and space. Spunk and others have played improv with electronics and punk rock attitude, while George Lewis has developed programs that allow live improvisers to interact with his computer.

Paul Flaherty couldn’t care less about any of that. His screaming saxophone playing recalls the loudest, craziest-sounding free jazz musicians of the 1960s and early 1970s, including Frank Wright, Noah Howard and Albert Ayler, without much of a whiff of any of the new ideas in free improv since then. Flaherty’s music sounds like the last thirty years never happened. While Flaherty might not be especially forward-thinking, though, he’s definitely thinking – his music is so perfectly executed, so packed with compelling ideas and smooth transitions, that it’s easy to ignore the fact that his music is so unabashedly retro.

On Flaherty’s excellent last two records, The Hated Music with Chris Corsano and Sannyasi with Corsano and Greg Kelley, Flaherty provided a center of gravity around which the other musicians revolved – Corsano and Kelley often played stuttering flourishes that contrasted with Flaherty’s sustained howls. On Voices, Flaherty’s new solo album, his approach is similar, though the effect is different. Voices features some reflective bluesy playing and aggressive low-register honking, but much of the album consists of tangled high-pitched runs and screaming multiphonics. Without any other musicians to create the sort of interaction that drove The Hated Music and Sannyasi, much of Voices feels like a single sound rather than a collection of related ones. Listening to Voices is like an unexpected blast of cold water during a hot shower, only more pleasant – it’s an overwhelming and shocking feeling that’s impossible to ignore until it’s over.

So in a way, Voices is even more similar to early-1970s over-the-top ecstatic jazz than Flaherty’s previous work. The Hated Music was hectic and aggressive, but Flaherty and Corsano also played very sensitively, listening to each other closely and reacting quickly. On the other hand, Dave Burrell’s “Echo” and Alan Silva’s The Seasons (two free jazz pieces from 1969 and 1970 to which Flaherty has undoubtedly listened closely) depend not on careful interaction, but on sheer force. Both are so dense that it’s best to stop trying to pick out individual voices and just let the music punish you. Flaherty doesn’t have the sheer numbers that Burrell or Silva had, but when I turn up the volume on Voices, Flaherty destroys me in a similar way.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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