Paul Flaherty – tenor and alto sax | Steve Swell – trombone | C. Spencer Yeh – violin and voice | Weasel Walter – drums
Liner notes by Byron Coley. Photos by Peter Gannushkin. Design by Malgorzata Lipinska. Recorded “in concert” by Weasel Walter on May 6th, 2011 at The Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, NY, USA.
Tracklist: 1. praying mantis [20:52] 2. tarantula [09:04] 3. mosquito [17:45]
Today I was out pruning an apple tree that grows at our place.
Despite the fact this winter has been warm and snowless, you’ve gotta do it while the days are still short. Up on the ladder, brush-saw in hand, I looked around at the beautiful grey vistas. Hills shorn of color, the ebb and flow of the landscape – open in spots, sphincter-tight in others – was on full display, and I thought about this part of the country, New England, and why we live here.
Over the past couple of decades this has been, in my opinion, the best place to live ever. There’s a kind of big sky that’s unusual on the East Coast, appreciable in a way it isn’t in many other places. And there is a music scene so rich it buggers description. A lot of people have picked up on this over the years, but few of them have been here as long as we have. And so it was a thought worth savoring. Trying to figure out who’d been here longer, my brain immediately shifted to Paul Flaherty. That motherfucker. That guy has been in the Connecticut River Valley longer than us. And man, if he doesn’t have a lot do with why we’re all here, well, no one does.
Flaherty has been a constant, almost Ivesian, presence around New England ever since Orange issued their Presents in the Midst of Chaos LP back in ’78. In the intervening years, Paul has released a continuous, gush of fantastic albums (somewhere between 40 and 50 of ’em}, in a wide array of formats, each and every one dazzling in part or in whole. His searing tone and the heat of his attack have become a part of the region’s landscape. They color the local stone and burst into flame on the trees every year without fail. This new session, Dragonfly Breath, recorded at the old Issue Project Room in May, 2011, is another wonderful shard of Northern breath control.
The line-up is a new one. Steve Swell is on trombone (he and Paul previously worked together with Joe McPhee in the Jumala Quintet). C. Spencer Yeh is on violin and voice (he and Paul have been in some crazy trios). Weasel Walter is on drums (he and Paul did a duo record, which I’ve never heard, and recorded a quartet date in ’08). Paul plays alto and tenor.
The three pieces on Dragonfly Breath demonstrate a variety of the quartet’s strengths. The first, “Praying Mantis” is of almost classicist Euro design. The field of sound shifts fitfully between trios, duos and solos with lots of fast track parallel improv motion. Everyone gets space galore and the work spirals around quickly, shifting mood and instrumentation with antic grace. Spencer manages to conjure up the spirit of Ornette’s violin work – scratchy and fractured with surprising rhythmic content. Steve goes from huge blats to quiet valve breathing like a true master. Weasel extends the Tony Williams forcefield around him into a magnificently lop-sided bubble-engine. And Paul wails hard through the middle, conjuring up rough-as-Ayler sand-blasts at several key junctures. Weirdly, some of the most riveting passages are the low volume ones, where everything is just simmering and crazy, but calm at the same time, A dandy-ass opener, indeed.
“Tarantula” begins with Spencer sawing fast and dattery, making room only when the sax and ‘bone enter the fray, worrying small, fast circular figures. When Weasel starts up, the whole quartet swings hard into a theme that weaves so drunkenly, you’d almost swear it was Dutch. It builds slowly and surely, swallowing everything in the room until it’s relieved by the explosive vom of its climax. Must be how tarantulas mate or something.
The final piece, “Mosquito”, has a weirdly Mingus – like feel at times. Paul and Steve start off with lines that almost sound like Charles MCPherson and Lou Blackburn on Mingus at Monterey. Then shit start to get moist and weird. Spencer displays his predilection for glossolalia and the action moves deeper into the unknown, eventually ending in something very much like music from “Rocky & Bullwinkle” run through a blender. It resolves into a lovely group improv where Flaherty’s standard approach – driving a fist into your chest in order to fondle your heart – sets the scene and pace.
Damn, what a wonderful set. We definitely all should’ve been there. But we couldn’t make. And now we can. So we’re off the hook. Very lucky for us. New Englanders all. — BYRON COLEY [Deerfield, MA, Feb. 2012]
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)