Much in the same way that Muhammad Ali would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, New England free jazzcore improv drummer Chris Corsano plays with agility, speed, and stylish strength, managing a graceful restraint even as he scatters explosive hailstorms and run-on sentences. One suspects that Corsano would never self-advertise the way Ali did, though.
Corsano was joined by experimental guitarist Bill Horist and improvisational alto sax expert Wally Shoup at the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford this past Friday, April 1. The young, wiry drummer played a fairly standard jazz kit, although his rack tom seemed particularly tiny, and he employed many extra add-ons throughout the night. Spare stick between his teeth, Corsano kept his head cooly cocked to the side, away from the action, as he chopped away. Shoup, with whom Corsano has previously collaborated in a trio that included Thurston Moore, seemed to be outlining the melodious cacophony of the first set; Corsano and Horist, employing a fair amount of extras himself (a slide, an E-bow, various pedals) fluidly colored the spaces—and left some appropriately blank.
After the first number (the trio was particularly good at clipping their conversations into palatable, digestible portions), a friend asked, "What did that make you think of?" "A noir movie," I said, "about the Art Ensemble of Chicago. What about you?" "The end of Bambi," she replied, "you know, with the forest fire and everything." A gentleman in front clapped wildly and called out a prediction: "Now we're gonna get funky." Thankfully, "we" did not. Corsano put a large metal bowl on his snare drum as if he was about to fix himself a salad, and, as he made shimmery patterns in and around it, the trio instead got melancholy—in a tropical island sort of way. During the second set, in a similar nod to texture, Corsano put a small cymbal on his floor tom and dragged a cello bow up and down its edge. It was a pretty, whispery sound that could barely be heard. In order to catch it, you had to concentrate, and ask yourself to listen.
I've been criticized before for suggesting that improv music doesn't necessarily require intellectual analysis or immediate understanding of the process, but throughout the evening, as I watched Corsano's blurred hands knock lightning-quick punches, and marveled at his powerful yet wildly distributed shots and the intersection of all three players, I was happy to be in the dark. If you give up, and allow yourself to trust—and chase after—every next minute the way the musicians themselves seem to do, the not-knowing makes for a surprising and enlightening ride.