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Sadly, many will hear Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt’s latest LP, Made Out of Sound, as “not-jazz,” though it would be more aptly described as “not-not-jazz.” In a better world, it would warrant above-the-fold reviews in Downbeat, or an appearance on David Sanborn’s late-night show (if someone would only give it back to him). More likely, we can hope for a haiku review on Byron Coley’s Twitter timeline to sufficiently connect the various improvised terrains trodden by this long-time duo — but if you’ve been able to listen past the overmodulated icepick fidelity of Harry Pussy, it should surprise you not an iota that Orcutt’s style is rooted as much in the fractal melodies of Trane and Taylor as it is in Delta syrup or Tin Pan Alley glitz.
As for Corsano, well, it may seem daft to call this particular record “jazz” (because duh, it has a drummer), but to me Corsano is beyond jazz, almost beyond music, his ambidextrous, octopoid technique grappling many stylistic levers and spraying a torrent of light from every direction. Corsano’s ferocity has elevated many “mere” improv records to transcendence, but here he’s crafted his polyrhythms within more narrative channels, bringing to mind his “mannered” playing in the lamented Flower- Corsano duo. It’s not “groove” playing precisely, but it follows many grooves simultaneously, much like Orcutt’s own melodic musings — which is why they’re so naturally lock-in-key here.
Which maybe makes it all the more surprising that Made Out of Sound was in fact recorded in different rooms on different coasts at different times, and stitched together by Orcutt on his desktop. Corsano recorded the drums in Ithaca, NY, and (as Orcutt states), “I didn’t edit them at all. I overdubbed two guitar tracks, panned left/right. I’d listen to the drums a couple times, pick a tuning, then improvise a part, thinking of the first track as backing and the second as the ‘lead’, though those are pretty fluid terms. I was watching the waveforms as I was recording, so I could see when a crescendo was coming or when to bring it down.”
Fluidity ties the tracks together. With a little more groove and a little less around-the-beat maneuvering, one could almost hear the boiling harmonic layers as Miles-oid in “Man Carrying Thing,” but with new-found Sharrockian modalities, Corsano accentuating the tumbling nature of the falling notes. The Sharrock vein continues with “How to Cook a Wolf,” its Blind Willie-esque melodic simplicity and repetition extrapolated 360-style in a repetitive descending riff that falls into Cippolina-isms (by way of Verlaine) until the end crashes upon the shore.
Much like Orcutt’s last solo album, Odds Against Tomorrow, there’s a gentler, almost pastoral flow to some tracks (“Some Tennessee Jar,” “A Port in Air,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking”) that calls to mind the mixolydian swamplands of Lonnie Liston Smith — but unlike Odds, other tracks (“The Thing Itself”) smash that same lyricism into overdriven, multi-dimensional melodic clumps that push several vector envelopes at once in an Interstellar Space vein.
With the help of Corsano, Orcutt has managed to slither even further out of the noise/improv pigeonhole lazy listeners/writers keep trying to shove him into. Looking at the back cover of Made Out of Sound, we should not see Orcutt hurling a guitar into the air with post-punk bravado, Corsano toiling behind him in the engine room — we should witness an instrument levitating from his hands, rising on invisible major-key tendrils of melody, fired by percussion, spiraling into an invisible event horizon. — TOM CARTER