That Cut, the third solo effort from Chris Corsano, draws much of its inspiration from the Minutemen is a little hard to believe. Though undeniably eclectic and powerful, the seminal ‘80s punk band never approached anything like the bizarre and often quite beautiful vignettes that dominate the latest effort from the acclaimed percussionist and improviser.
Hypnotic chime incantations lead immediately into rapid-fire cavalcades of snare and cymbal before giving way to feral saxaphone squall. The music’s liberated nature does align with punk’s irreverent ethos, but it’s hard to detect any sonic common ground between Corsano and the blistering band that he references often and emphatically.
“In my own little weird way that means nothing to anybody else, they’re all these tributes to the Minutemen,” he explains. “That was the first thing that like pulled me into the world of hardcore and also their politics. Everything about them was just sort of huge for me when I was maybe 15. Going back, like in every year of my life, maybe I discover some new music, but then it’s always like if I put on Double Nickels [on the Dime] or What Makes a Man Start Fires?, I’ll hear elements of that. In a way, they mapped out this route.”
The route he’s referring to is the trajectory of his solo albums, all of which consist of short and punchy experiments, eschewing the long-winded pieces preferred by many of his avant-garde peers. This approach feeds his constant appetite for experimentation, a need he also satiates with his ever-changing setup. He litters his toms and snares with pieces of metal, some proper cymbals, some repurposed junk. He also fashions his own acoustic instruments and manipulates the way his drums can be played; one of his favorite techniques involves placing strings atop his drums and bowing them to create weird and wonderful drone. While the sounds themselves might not mesh with that of the Minutemen or their punk peers, Corsano’s inherent restlessness and his refusal to be tied down by one setup or technique mirrors their adventurous approach.
“Experimental music and improv usually has these long pieces, and sometimes the structures are like quiet-loud and then back down to quiet. There’s certain tropes,” Corsano says. “But it’s like, screw all that. That’s not where I’m from. My history is more in these short little blasts. Get in and do it. Don’t repeat the chorus. With the solo stuff, it becomes, ‘Here’s this idea, like a trashy cymbal put on the tom, played with this kind of mallet.’ That’s as much pre-planning as there is, and then record it and just try to play something that’s music rather than just playing your setup.”
True to the bang-bang aesthetic of his own work, Corsano’s path to improvisation went through punk. After playing in hardcore bands in high school, he formed 13 Gauge alongside future Tall Firs guitarist Aaron Mullan while enrolled at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.
While playing in that band, his early punk influences were complicated by a newfound love for free jazz and Japanese noise artists. Inspired, he pushed 13 Gauge to record a free improv album, which he impulsively shared with esteemed saxophonist Paul Flaherty. He liked what he heard and suggested the two jam together. Soon, they were playing shows and recording as a duo, Corsano’s nimble shifts from nervous skitters to concussive assaults pairing perfectly with Flaherty’s boldly arrhythmic technique.
That collaboration opened other doors. He’s since played with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and toured the world with Bjork. He’s backed psych-folk legend Six Organs of Admittance and lent complementary clamor to the work of acoustic picker Glenn Jones. In all of these pursuits, he still sees himself as an improviser, adapting his techniques to different circumstances without forsaking his own distinct personality.
“Improvisation is something that opens you up to being able to react quickly and being able to fit into a bunch of different situations without having to plan everything out,” Corsano explains. “You kind of get a read of the situation, and then hopefully as soon as the music hits, everything you’ve done up to that point kind of informs it. But you’re trying to create something entirely new.”
Cut confirms Corsano’s ability to adapt while still creating work that somehow feels unified. The high-speed metal clanks of “The Attendant” segway nicely into the dominating rhythms and mind-bending tonal shifts of the wood block-on-tom showcase “Famously Short Arms.” The hypnotic semi-cacophony of the stringed-drum number “These Things Are Not Fancy” achieves a menacing mood similar to the saxophone bleats that dominate “Shank and Spindle.”
“This is my document of problem-solving or music-making in this era,” he says. “Hopefully there's a common thread.”
— Jordan Lawrence is music editor at Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: Chris Corsano, with David Daniell and Shane Perlowin & Tashi Dorji Duo
where: The Apothecary, 39 S. Market St.
when: Wednesday, April 24 (9 p.m. $5 advance / $8 door. cor-sano.com)