Creative improvised music is alive with provincial nooks and crannies, geographical pockets where the music thrives with relative independence from its more visible urban epicenters. These regional locales are in fact one of the primary channels by which the tradition is propagated and expanded upon. Paul Flaherty is an acknowledged patriarch of one such province- up-state Massachusetts. Along drummer Randall Colbourne, a frequent ally, and partner in the jointly run Zaabway label Flaherty has fostered and sustained a scene where whence there was none. Self-producing and releasing a slew of albums they’ve documented their own progress and actively sought the (see there explosive collaboration with Raphé Malik, Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter on Resonance
) Sporting the look of wise, white-bearded guru his unpolished saxophonics carry the at once self-assured and self-deprecating swagger and emotive ardor endemic of the Ayler/Brötzmann tradition. Kelly, Voigt and Cook are fellow New Englanders often associated with the bustling Boston improvisatory community.
The general feel of the seven improvisations is one of cohesive whole, each track absorbing into the next with little overt fanfare to signal transitions. Kelley finds space for his usual flood of breath sounds and mouthpiece smears on “Sense of Trust,” blowing both muted and open over a spidery pizzicato reticulation from Voigt. Cook’s sticks are almost completely coloristic, tapping out an odd cymbal pattern on occasion, but largely remaining freely associative. Collectively conceived and deployed this is spontaneous music with a definite ear tuned toward deep and collaborative listening. Spaces of knotty and often scurrilous collective improvisation switch places with stretches of diffusive and at times digressive solo, duo and trio contemplation. Strict time and tempo are accorded only relational importance and any attempt to lock down transcribable structure is summarily thwarted. On “Space In Which We Live,” Voigt routinely reestablishes a central rhythmic pulse, which the horns cavort around in stream of consciousness salvos. Kelley’s litany of smears, smudges, whinnies and chortles in the piece’s opening minutes suggest a timbral command and capacity on his instrument that is positively overwhelming. Flaherty’s Eastern-tinged multiphonics affect a similarly arresting response toward the tracks close. Voigt christens “Dragon In the Sand” fingering a skein of frayed lines that dissolve in a tide of pitched horns and percussion. Moments of genuine lyric symmetry surface occasionaly as on Flaherty’s fervid tenor exclamation at the center of “Centered with Gratitude.”
Far from a Gordian knot this music is perplexing and abrasive only if the listener is reticent to attend to it on its rules. Those willing to cast away precalculated expectations and embrace these sounds unreservedly will discover their leap of faith well rewarded. While these four improvisors deal in common currency of free jazz (familiar instrumentation, energy-laden solo and group improvisation) they also offer compelling proof of the art form’s primacy at fostering galvanic regional variation.
Personnel: Paul Flaherty- alto & tenor saxophones; Greg Kelley- trumpet; John Voigt- bass; Laurence Cook- drums. Recorded: November 17, 1999, Westwood, MA.