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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Zoh Amba, Chris Corsano, Bill Orcutt - The Flower School (Palilalia Records, 2023)

Recently, I wrote a review of Zoh Amba’s release O Light O Life Vol.2 and found that it could not quite keep up with its predecessor. So, I expressed a little skepticism whether it was wise of her releasing so many albums in such a short time (there were five in 2022 alone), if you want to keep a certain standard of quality. Without a doubt, these albums are all very good, I even consider Bhakti a masterpiece. However, at the time of the publication of my review I wasn’t aware of the fact that a new recording with Chris Corsano (drums) and Bill Orcutt (guitar) had already been released, and I must admit that Amba has proved me wrong, because The Flower School is quite an excellent album again.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the great quality of The Flower School is that the combination with Bill Orcutt’s guitar makes the musical environment completely different compared to her previous releases. In “What Emptiness Do You Gaze Upon!“ and “The Morning Light Has Flooded My Eyes“, Orcutt and Corsano create wide textures through shredded chords and drum rolls that Amba pushes harsh against with a roaring sound full of vibratos and shrill overblown lines reminiscent of Albert Ayler and David Murray. In terms of the energy of these tracks one almost feels reminded of a version of Last Exit without Bill Laswell on bass. Also, Orcutt proves that he knows how to structure an improvisation. He cleverly introduces repetitive tones and drones that seem like chimes or gloomy portents, Corsano in turn uses this for drum crescendos over which Amba then lets her spiritual lines float. That she’s also a talented balladeer can be heard in “The Flower School“ and in “The Moon Showed But No You“, the latter just in a duo with Orcutt. Here it seems as if both dance around each other, very tenderly, but without touching each other. It’s a piece of extraordinary beauty and coherence.

Not only on this album does Amba succeed in creating both with her playing: she’s iconoclastic, edgy and brutally rough on the one hand, while on the other hand she’s sincerely painful and heartbreaking. Her tone, her voice, emerge from this tension. Thus, her music is extremely demanding and spiritual. If you didn’t know that she’s just 22 years old, you would probably imagine 40- to 50-year-old giant. But the fact that she turns this stereotype on its head is one of the reasons that make her so special.

So, I might have been wrong in my review of O Light O Life Vol.2 regarding Amba’s release policy (though I haven’t changed my opinion towards the album itself). But as long as she makes music of such depth and elegance as on The Flower School, any release is welcome. I’m looking forward to listening to the next one.

The Flower School is available as a download and a limited vinyl version. You can listen to the album and order it here: