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Thursday, April 20, 2023

Paul Flaherty/ Zach Rowden - As Far as Death (Family Vineyard, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

It’s not easy for a free jazz duo to make a lasting impression with a 3’44” track, but veteran saxophonist Paul Flaherty and recently arrived bassist Zach Rowden do just that with “The Question Drops”, the opening track of this LP. Rowden is playing arco from the outset of the track, immediately erecting a wall of particulate grit in an updraft amid surging harmonics, recalling those very few acoustic bassists capable of bowed mayhem ( e.g., Joëlle Léandre, Joshua Abrams [the latter on Excavations 1 on Feeding Tube]) , and it’s an ideal fit with Flaherty, here on tenor, one of the great exponents of the spiritualized energy school of saxophonists, from Albert Ayler and Frank Wright forward. Flaherty’s urgent, whistling highs mingle with Rowden’s similar upper register, the two locked onto the same impulse. By the time the Connecticut duo have reached the conclusion of “The Question…” everything has shifted to sweet fluting harmonics.

“Under The Tough Acid” shifts the focus, with Flaherty turning to alto and an initially sweet tone playing circulating harmonics. “Fire in Smoke”, on tenor, drops to ballad tempo on the verge of dirge for a profound lament, initially in a hymn-like mode reaching directly back to Ayler. As startling as the fraternity of Flaherty and Rowden’s sounds is at tempo, here it becomes even more acute, with the two virtually tuning together on stratospheric highs. There’s a passage in which Flaherty seems to be playing only his mouthpiece, creating a high wailing lament. “Foot Stone” concludes the side with serenely reflective alto playing, again highlighted by the spontaneous “tuning in” that the two practice, at times finding moments of tonal and rhythmic unity that suggest an impossible score.

Those varied reflective depths serve as prelude to the second side of the LP, the monumental “Thrown Shadows”, a 20-minute Jeremiad - elegy, lament, testament, cry - that finds Flaherty plumbing every depth that his tenor and its traditions might possess. There’s one astonishing moment early on when he plays a gradually ascending, grinding, struggling, chromatic scale, Rowden ascending with him in swirling lockstep, and it might be the greatest available musical parallel to the myth of Sisyphus. Around 14’30”, Flaherty brings it down to a whisper, there’s a brief pause, and then Rowden embarks on a solo that finds levels of low-register arco and subtle harmonic overlays that ultimately suggest a choir of basses tuning in and out between consonance and dissonance, suggesting at times an airplane engine droning in a dark sky, yet sounding, too, like Buddhist temple chanting. When Flaherty re-enters, it’s with the thickest tenor sound one might ever hear, supplying the lament with ever-greater intensity until, in the final seconds, he emits a few isolated, almost inaudible, whistling cries, concluding a work of unique power.

There are other recordings of improvised music with comparable levels of empathetic listening and emotional intensity. If one were to exceed this, I’m not sure I could make the distinction.



Paul Flaherty is a well known, for more than thirty years, and important figure for free jazz in the States.
Some recomendations from Zach Rowden's discography:
Zach Rowden, Jarrett Gilgore, Ian McColm – First Lapse (Raw Tonk)
Tatsuya Nakatani / Shane Parish / Zach Rowden – Live At Static Age Records (Astral Spirits)

plus the totally weird and crazy releases from free jazz/noise/everything/anything ensemble Crazy Doberman!

Anonymous said...

I like the music but the recording is flat.