Kaivalya Volume 1
The Dim Bulb
It's Magnificent, But It Isn't War
"Free music players are born, not made," writes saxophonist Paul Flaherty in the liner notes to Kaivalya Volume 1. "Why else would someone travel this road, if they didn't have to?" Since first heeding improvisation's call in the 1970s, Flaherty has hurtled down the free-jazz highway without looking back. In the '90s, his prolific partnership with drummer Randall Colbourne generated 16 scorching records, but since 2001 Flaherty has played with many stellar musicians in a variety of lineups. These four albums continue his zig-zagging path, with a duo, trio, quartet and quintet, each a compelling version of his impulsive artistry.
Though Flaherty is best known for high-octane improvising, his playing also uses healthy doses of restraint, reflection, and sonic range. Kaivalya, his first encounter with self-described "power drummer" Edwards, could have been a tireless onslaught, but much of the album is surprisingly melodic. Flaherty's sinuous tenor pours over Edwards' pulse on "Amrita," while on "Janagama" he slowly scales the drummer's mountainous rhythms before erupting into growls. There are some noisy blowouts here, but the fluidity of Flaherty and Edwards' interplay is Kaivalya's most persuasive trait.
Two albums featuring the fantastic drummer Chris Corsano offer a higher-energy attack. The Dim Bulb, a live recording with baritone saxophonist Steve Baczkowski, charges full-steam ahead, with three lengthy tracks of storming din that occasionally retreat, but never for long. Corsano's whirlwind rhythms and skillful cacophony surround his bandmates' restless horns. Even when Flaherty moans soulfully and Baczkowski bellows sublimely on "No Boat Will Ever Come," it's merely the calm before a heavier, air-shaking storm.
Cold Bleak Heat, a quartet with trumpeter Greg Kelley and bassist Matt Heyner, is more tidal. On It's Magnificent, But It Isn't War, the group's small sounds climb quickly into huge crescendos, only to regroup and scale new peaks. Flaherty and Kelley's sly interaction is key, peaking in the 16-minute "Love Conquers All, Motherfucker," a collection of chirps, bleats and shrieks that is excitingly unpredictable yet never rushed or random.
The most accomplished album of the four is Turtle Crossing, the debut of the quintet of Flaherty, reedist Joe McPhee, trombonist Steve Swell, bassist John Voigt and drummer Laurence Cook. Pristinely recorded at Peter Kontrimas' PBS Studios in Massachusetts, the album is impressively egalitarian: Every player is given ample space, and all types of sounds are explored. Even when the music builds into a busy mass, the clarity and precision are stunning. Conversely, the calmest moments still bubble with creative energy. On the title track, Flaherty and Swell coax subtle sounds into a thick swing, while on "Borrowed Light" McPhee weaves his soprano sax through Voigt's pecking bass and Cook's clicking drum kit. The latter duo gets final say, swaying deftly to close the album-ending "All Is Always Now." "Even a turtle crosses the finishing line eventually," concludes Flaherty in the liner notes, but the thrill here and in all of Flaherty's music is not the destination but the journey. The path he's carved through free jazz remains fervently vital.