Thursday, October 4, 2012


Label: Leo Records– CD LR 369
Format: CD; Country: UK; Released: 2003: Style: Free Jazz, Free Improvisation
Recorded live on September 14, 2002 at Tonic, NYC.
Artwork [Cover Art] – Wally Shoup
New Design (pages: 2,3,4,5) by ART&JAZZ Studio SALVARICA - 2012; Designer - Vitko Salvarica
Engineer, Edited By – Leo Feigin, Simon Brewer
Liner Notes – Dan Warburton
Photography – Stefano Giovannini
Producer – Leo Feigin; Recorded By – Chris Habib


This is a dream date, and unlike most dream dates this one works. Saxophonists Wally Shoup and Paul Flaherty have so much in common. They share a raw delivery of emotion, a passion that sets their free improvising on fire, and a history of dwelling in the shadows of American improv for way too long. Prior to this live date, they were both engaged in a revitalization of their careers — or was it simply that their music was finally falling into the right ears? Flaherty had released important albums on Boxholder, Ecstatic Yod, and his own brand-new label, Wet Paint. Shoup was about to have a fresh session released on the influential label Leo. And here they are sharing the stage at Tonic in New York City, pushing each other into a blowout contest of epic proportions. Between their towering presence, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore throws his mean guitar playing, matching their intense wails and feverish spurts. His presence occasionally becomes overwhelming, but in general he contributes an essential part to the exciting music, his relevance hitting peaks in "Tonic Two" — is this a free jazz quartet or Borbetomagus? Chris Corsano makes the perfect drummer for this group.
His playing is extremely busy, saturated, but he stays in the back, leaving the three already loud voices of the saxophones and guitar to tear up the front of the stage. Live at Tonic contains two or three episodes of confusion, especially in "Tonic Three," but in general it makes a compelling, exhausting, hell-raising session of fire music from the post-fire music era.

~ François Couture, All Music Guide.

 Liner Notes:

Should one wish to explore the thorny question of where "free jazz" ends and "free improvisation" begins (I don't particularly want to get into it, but..), it's perhaps the continuing need on the part of some musicians to retain the idea of a theme, a "head" (albeit symbolically) that ought to be discussed (that and the role of the rhythm section bass and drums, but that's another story). Despite its audacious title, Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" followed the time-honoured bop structure of head (ensemble) alternating with individual solos (horns first, rhythm section last), and the idea of a head remained central to Coltrane, Ayler and Frank Wright, to name but three major players. Though it soon lost its earlier role as central organising pillar (either vertical, as harmonic "changes" to be played over the legacy of bop or horizontal, as melodic/intervallic material to be developed by the soloist Monk, Ornette, Lacy...) the head nevertheless retained a structural function. (Ayler used it to delineate form, marking the end of one solo and preparing the ground for the next.) When American free jazz, as Sunny Murray put it, "got lost" in the late 1970s (some musicians crossed over into funk; others retreated into academia; some plied their trade wherever they could in draughty lofts; others disappeared altogether and died in the street), a few brave souls established links with like-minded explorers in Europe and Japan, where younger generations of players (free from the constraints of the Tradition imposed by the American media, that pompous self-appointed arbiter not only of what jazz is, but also apparently of what's good and bad jazz), had taken the plunge and dispensed with themes altogether. 

Twenty years down the line, discovering that they can quite easily do without the head, and the melodic and/or harmonic information it contains, what do musicians improvise "over"? Answer: they improvise full stop, they play, they take it to the edge. Parameters other than pitch, harmony and rhythm (in the strict metrical sense of the word) are less important here than timbre, event-density and volume. To adopt an analogy from the visual arts, we've moved away from figurative to abstract expressionist it's no coincidence that a Jackson Pollock was chosen as cover art for "Free Jazz", and no coincidence either that many improvising musicians are also painters: Alan Silva, Bill Dixon, Peter Brötzmann, Ivo Perelman, Jack Wright and, as you can see, Wally Shoup. 

Shoup and Paul Flaherty have doggedly pursued the goal of improvised music for over two decades in a United States where jazz (and its attendant codes of behaviour) still holds sway. (This isn't to say that they are uninfluenced by it name me a saxophonist who is both men possess a strength and purity of tone and a determination to pursue musical ideas that clearly points not only to Ayler and Coltrane, but further back to Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins.) Until recently they've had to labour on in relative obscurity between 1984 and 1994's "Project W" (Apraxia), Shoup only released his work on self-produced cassettes, while Flaherty curated his Zaabway imprint with kindred spirit Randy Colbourne until 2001's magnificent "The Ilya Tree" (Boxholder) and the sensational "The Hated Music" on Ecstatic Yod. 

Guitarist Thurston Moore needs little introduction, of course, neither as a performer in his own right with Sonic Youth nor as a tireless champion of free music. In an interview in 1998 with The Wire's Biba Kopf, he recalled the thrill of his discovery of the "amorphous [...] spontaneous blowout" at a New York loft session in the early 1980s featuring guitarists Glenn Branca and Rudolph Grey (whose group The Blue Humans with Arthur Doyle and Beaver Harris was one of the first improvisation outfits to cross over into the ugly, noisy world of No Wave). Moore subsequently asked writer Byron Coley to compile some free-music tapes to take on a mid-80s SY tour (Coley made sixty!) and "then someone gave me a copy of [Brötzmann's] "Machine Gun" and it was all over..." Coming from rock, Moore arrived in free music without the baggage of a jazz soloist (i.e. notes matter he recalls being bemused the first time he heard Derek Bailey) but with an arsenal of extended techniques that would make any jazz guitarist (with the possible exception of the late Sonny Sharrock) shudder with fear. 

Drummer Chris Corsano (who partners Flaherty to perfection on "The Hated Music" and the more recent "Sannyasi" on the saxophonist's new Wet Paint imprint) is, as he has to be in such company, a veritable powerhouse, just as adept at exploiting percussion's timbral potential as he is its rhythmic propulsion. Sunny Murray would be proud of him. 

It's only just that this magnificent work should find itself on the venerable Leo label, and I for one can't wait to hear more of it, especially now that the likes of Matt Shipp, William Parker and David Ware are sliding progressively back towards orthodoxy, secure in the knowledge that the safety net of Tradition be that bebop or hiphop lies beneath them. It's good to know there's still somebody on the edge willing to come back and remind us what it's like out there. 

_ Dan Warburton

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  1. SHOUP, FLAHERTY, MOORE, CORSANO - Live At Tonic (2003)