Paul Flaherty - Whirl of Nothingness (Family Vineyard CD)
Kind of hard to believe Paul Flaherty has been in the game for twenty-something years now and "Whirl of Nothingness" is just the second record he's put out all by his lonesome. His other solo album "Voices" came out on Flaherty's own Wet Paint label in 2003, but Family Vineyard have taken the reigns for this one and you may recall they had a hand in the Flaherty/Corsano duo's "Beloved Music" earlier this year. Ever since the late 70's, Flaherty has been blazing his own trail in the jazz genre, forever on the hunt for something called the Eternal Now, whether in tandem with the likes of Corsano, Randall Colbourne, Greg Kelley, Joe McPhee, Thurston Moore, Marc Edwards, and many others. I'm not sure if he's gotten any closer to his destination with "Whirl of Nothingness", but for everybody's sake let's hope he keeps on searching and keeps on putting out great records.
Family Vineyard have given this disc a real swell packaging job. First there's the glorious portraits of the man himself, on the front and back sleeves, which basically had me eating out of the palm of this CD's hand (?) before I even put it on. Next they've included a poem by the same name as the album on the inside as well as some ruminations and explanations from Flaherty. According to him, these eight spontaneous improvisations all came about on the evening of my birthday (!) last year basically because "something or other wanted to get out". Surely I'm not suggesting that Paul and I had some kind of mindmeld in which he was duly inspired to record eight alto/tenor musings for me, despite the two of us having never even shaken hands? Well no, but you live your dream and I'll live mine, okay? Actually the tone of these tracks is pretty heavy, as they are dedicated to "all the victims yet to come...and doesn't that include us all". Couple that with dramatic titles like "Sweetly Danced in Times of Hurtful Pleasure" and "Waiting to Be Lifted Onto the Flames" and you've got some real horn for throught here. Indeed, Flaherty's sax tone is just as urgent as his liners and his titles. Album opener "Compassion Lost and Found Again" is a somber waltz through Flaherty's usual topsy-turvy notes, finding him white-knuckled and purple-faced by song's end while "Blankts Wear the Naked Fear" is quicker to move into such territory. You can pick up Flaherty's huffing quite clearly like an intended bassline as he expels tiny machine gun blops through the speakers. On "Firetrance Lonely Heartache Still", Flaherty plumbs the depths of notes I haven't heard since the bullhorn went off on the Titanic when we clipped that iceberg and "Shattered Scenes of Blinding Burst" is a largely-strangled feathered wooze that charms me inasmuch as it physically attacks me. The last half of the hour-long session is where the best material is hidden though - Flaherty uses vocal improvisation on three of the four to great effect. His yelps, gurgles, whines and outright shrieking sounds quite like the muted screaming he hints at his liners vis à vis the world victims. "Sweetly Danced in Times of Hurtful Pleasure" is my favorite of the whole shebangabang, like Kaoru Abe laying down a sweet ballad - no matter how gently Abe may try to play the tune, it always comes across with torrid, impassioned fury and that's just the kind of note this track hits. "If You Step Back Far Enough...It'll Be All Right" and "Monsters Hide in Plain Sight Dark" both feature Flaherty working himself up into a fit, except the former features vintage Flaherty sax screaming and the latter features actual Flaherty vocal screaming. Right on! Final cut "Waiting to Be Lifted Onto the Flames" is another gem, mixing up golden syrup throat warbling with raw, stomach-rupturing shreds. Boy this Paul Flaherty, sure is a people-pleaser. Talk about something for everyone!
So now, obviously, solo saxophone records aren't always for everybody at every hour of the day. But let's be real - in thirty years time you're going to chomping at the bit for a reissue of this like you are now for any lost 70's side of Abe, Braxton, or Brotzmann. Don't be a sap. Buy now, and you can even take the cover art to the local photo shop and get it blown up into a beautiful poster to put over your bed while the sounds of Flaherty's disc scream you to sleep. Ain't that the kind of lullabye we all could use every now and again.