WTF?! Wednesdays: Paul Flaherty, Live at Mystery Train Records (2011)

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I’m a firm believer in the power of live music. The experience is even more important for freely improvised music. Because she is not here to defend herself (and also because she hardly ever reads my ranting), I will use TheWife™ as an example: she has almost no tolerance for “squeaky” sounds. If I put a record on the stereo or pop in a CD in the car, and the forthcoming music is of the peeling paint off the walls variety, she will ask if we’re going to listen to the entire recording. Somehow, her phrasing makes the question sound like “Holy crap. Are we really going to listen to this garbage?!”

However, TheWife™ has attended many an improvised music performance and almost always digs the goings on. Heck, we even saw the great Peter Brotzmann recently. The man made a frightening racket, and still she enjoyed the show.

While I don’t necessarily need the visual component of such music, I can certainly see how it can be an enhancement. In the case of saxophonist Paul Flaherty, seeing a performance might not only make you a believer, it might make you question where the music comes from.

I’ve seen many Paul Flaherty performances, but it was the first one that knocked me back. With his quiet presence and big white beard, his gentle nature doesn’t prepare you for the music. After pacing across the stage once or twice he held his saxophone to his mouth and then stood motionless for nearly a full minute. As I prepared myself for those first few slowly-building phrases (bad assumption on my part)…I was nearly blown out of my seat by the ferocious torrent of notes released from that horn. There were vicious circular arpeggios, lightning-quick chromatic runs, overblowing, growls, squeals, clacking valves, and all manner of extended technique.

I’m not a believer in the spirit world, but if you told me that we were experiencing a visitation I might not have argued with you. Especially breathtaking were the transitions from slow, romantic lines back into flaming ascending runs that ended with Flaherty taking the horn from his mouth and finishing the thought with an actual scream — Walt Whitman’s barbaric yawp channeled though saxophone.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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