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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Steve Baczkowski/Brandon Lopez/Chris Corsano - Old Smoke (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

You probably guessed as much from the musicians involved that there is some seriously forceful energy music contained on this release. Steve Baczkowski and Chris Corsano continue the epic tempest they began on 2018’s Mystic Beings (that record itself a successor to 2015’s Stolen Car), only this time instead of Bill Nace’s jagged guitar skree we get the low end rumble of Brandon Lopez. Baczkowski and Corsano’s documented collaborations go back to 2005’s The Dim Bulb which was succeeded by 2017’s The Dull Blade, both in a trio with Paul Flaherty, and they definitely mesh well (all the album names dropped are well worth your time). Corsano is also a member, along with pianist Sam Yulsman, of Brandon Lopez’s The Mess, who released an absolute flamethrower of an album in 2017’s Holy, Holy . To my knowledge this is the first recording of Lopez and Baczkowski together, and one has to hope that it’s the first of many, as the two have a strikingly similar modus operandi.

On "Iron Ore" the trio starts abruptly, the loose rhythmic pattern stirred up by Lopez and Corsano entwining with the coarse vibrato-laden baying of Baczkowski's baritone. As the piece develops the saxophone playing becomes more and more expressive, reaching a churning climax in the last minute or so. The next piece "Blast Furnace" begins with long, deep tones of circular breathing from Baczkowski while Lopez bows out multiphonic strands of sound over Corsano's crisp cymbal shimmer. It all coalesces around the midpoint, the sound growing more and more intense until it explodes into a gruff interplay of timbre and dynamics. "Bend in the Shore" is initiated via a bowed cymbal/sax drone augmented with Lopez's subtle thrum. This gives the track some direction before the trio open up in the latter half and lay down some fantastic interplay. On "Open Hearth" Baczkowski makes the switch to soprano saxophone, his reedy dissonance resembling a snake charmer's pungi and he really gets after it with some mighty air blasts. Corsano and Lopez play with a similarly high energy, and once the trio gets going it's a real earth scorcher. Similarly, "Slag Heap" starts quietly with rapid percussive reed popping and the thick gravity of Lopez's playing before igniting into a firestorm of rhythmic juxtaposition and high octane saxophone squelch. Corsano initiates "Steel Wind" with rapturous thunderclaps of percussion, culminating in a riotous melee before the trio launches into an eruption of aggressive exchanges. Lopez gives an extended solo, tempering the upsurge only momentarily before the triad detonates again. The last piece "Smoke Creek" caps of a very intense listening experience with another rousing fracas, this time a relatively short burst of energy just for good measure to remove any remaining oxygen from the room.

This is a really good album from three like-minded individuals, yielding another example of how ferocious a trio of acoustic instruments can sound. If you’re a fan of any of these guys I would recommend this album heartily as it is unrestrained, forceful and high velocity free jazz. There are a couple small pockets of breathing room but not much, so listening is akin to crawling along the floor in a blazing structure fire, fantastic stuff.

Baczkowski/Lopez/Corsano + Sam Yulsman (or The Mess + Baczkowski) @ Issue Project Room, 5/18/18: