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Friday, January 6, 2023

Flower-Corsano Duo – The Halcyon (VHF, 2022)

By Guido Montegrandi

Michael Flower and Chris Corsano share a common story that dates back to the early 2000s; they can be advertised as the only Japan banjo / drums duo in the world and part of the task in every review of the Flower Corsano Duo is to clarify what kind of instrument does Michael Flower play: Japan banjo AKA shahii baaja AKA electric bulbul tarang.

The shahi baaja ("royal instrument") is an electrified and slightly modified version of the Indian bulbul tarang, a type of Indian zither to which have been added typewriter keys which depress two of the strings to change their pitch. The modifications also include the addition of 10 additional unfretted strings which serve as an attached swarmandal (drone harp). The instrument is currently used in everything from semi-classical and popular Indian music to ambient techno, and psychedelic rock. (from

Despite their longstanding musical relationship, they haven’t recorded anything together since 2009 (The Four Aims, VHF), so when you start listening, the curiosity to hear what has changed is part of the game. Something has changed, the music is (at times) more relaxed, meandering, but the attitude is the same, two talented musicians playing into each other spaces giving birth to a flow that seems to have no beginning and no end.

The two long pieces that make up the album (each about 20 minutes) are assembled from recording made in three days from July 30 to August 1, 2018 in Leeds, Edinburgh and Bristol and are mixed by Flower and Corsano themselves.

The first impression is to enter into something that was already developing before the recording device had been turned on and that will continues when the recording device is turned off. Flower's playing is very personal and not influenced by the possible eastern leeway that the instrument might suggest. Sometimes, particularly in the first piece ('The River That Turned Into A Raging Fire') it is very guitar-like, sometimes more resonant and drone-oriented. Corsano is (as usual) inventive and perceptive and his drumming is exactly what is needed to be in every moment.

The impression of a constant flow, which is the main quality of the music, is also, sometimes, its limit as if the path gets foggy and the direction uncertain. Anyway, it is just a fleeting sensation that is overcome by the overall quality of their musical interactions, free form improvisation with an inner pulse.

One word about the title of this record, The Halcyon, is a bird which according to various mythologies is in control of the sea and the winds and in particular in the Greek myth of Alcyone, the halcyon days were days around the winter solstice when storm shall never occur, more in general the expression “Halcyon days” refers to an idyllic time in the past or to a peaceful time. Now if you put side by side the title of the record and the titles of the two pieces 'The River That Turned Into A Raging Fire' and 'The Ship That Sailed On Dry Land' you can have an idea of the inner tension that you find into their music and that is an essential element of its beauty.

In conclusion this is a music that seeks for an uninterrupted listening and asks to be followed in its wandering and if you accept, the voyage is yours to be taken.

P.S. One of the best thing about listening to music and thinking abut it, is that it opens new doors and new perspectives. As I was searching about the Japan banjo, I ran into an article published on the December issue on Wire about Ustad Noor Bakhsh an 80 years old Pakistan benju (AKA all of the above) player who has recently been enjoying a surprising popularity bringing this elusive instrument into the spotlights. He has just published his first record on bandcamp and you can watch various videos on youtube.


Anonymous said...

Excellent review of a great album, thank you!