Interview: Chris Corsano of the Flower-Corsano Duo
- Neil Cooper
- 11 April 2014
The drummer discusses what fuels his many collaborations ahead of his Edinburgh gig
Time was that if you lived in Edinburgh it felt like you could see drummer Chris Corsano play live pretty much any night of the week. During his time living in the capital in the mid to late noughties, the New England-sired drummer whose collaborators range from former Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore to free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker was a ubiquitous figure here.
Having hooked up with the city's fecund Noise scene, shows ranged from teaming up with assorted affiliates of the Giant Tank disorganisation, to duos with pedal steel vixen Heather Leigh Murray or bass player Massimo Pupillo of Italian power trio, Zu, to taking part in Arika's Resonant Spaces project. All this while touring the world with Bjork, whose Volta album Corsano appeared on.
One particularly busy couple of weeks in 2007 saw Corsano play Edinburgh with female Noise duo Hockyfrilla, another Edinburgh date in a duo with former Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista vocalist Carla Bozulich, supporting Faust at the Bongo Club with the Vibracathedral Orchestra's Mick Flower prior to a solo show at Optimo in Glasgow, and somehow managing to squeeze in a recording with Bjork for Jools Holland's Later programme broadcast the same weekend.
Seven years on, Corsano returns to Edinburgh with Flower this weekend for the duo's only Scottish date as part of a ten-date UK tour sandwiched inbetween a slew of European shows with the likes of Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and Indian-trained Finnish musician, Antti Tolvi.
This current burst of activity follows some rare time out for Corsano, who, when not on tour, now lives quietly in upstate New York, 'half-way between New York and Canada. I'd just had a hectic winter, and wanted to spend some time at home. I never really play in the town I live in. I don't know why, but Edinburgh was different.'
Sunday night's return will also continue a collaboration that began almost a decade ago when Corsano was living in Newcastle.
'Mick and I had played on the same bill,' Corsano recalls. 'He was playing with the Vibracathedral Orchestra and I was playing with Paul Flaherty, and Mick asked me if I wanted to come over to Leeds.'
The result has been a long-term artistic marriage of Corsano's busy use of the drum kit alongside Flower's drone-based extrapolations from an electric shruti box and Japanese banjo.
'I like playing with Mick,' says Corsano, 'because I like listening to him. I'm a fan. We go off and do our different things, but then when we get back together it's still really exciting. If it wasn't working I guess we wouldn't have pursued it as much as we have, and things do change. I can be playing with Mick, and then think, "Oh, I haven't heard that before". The synergies have always been in that state, which is one of pushing and pushing.'
'There's a certain kind of comfort there as well, because if the acoustic of a room is difficult, or if a crowd is hard to please, you know that because you've worked together so much that there's something to fall back on. But you always want to keep trying things out, and want to keep it exciting and alive. It's the same with any relationship, personal or otherwise.'
Corsano's point about how much he enjoys listening to Flower is telling about Corsano's own approach. His playing is so sensitive to whoever else he's on stage with that, rather than dominate as a lesser drummer might with an over-riding clatter, Corsano's opens out a sea of space for others to fill, even as he pulses things along.
'I think we've practised once, maybe twice,' says Corsano of his and Flower's approach. 'Everything else has been playing shows or recording. As what we do is improvised, you try to catch whatever's going on in the room and how the audience are. The key thing is to support the other person, and when you hear something that might be useful, you pick it up, so you're always trying to get better.'
The duo set-up is something that seems to suit Corsano. As well as his alliance with Flower, Corsano has long-standing partnerships with veteran saxophonists Paul Flaherty and Joe McPhee.
'The duo setting can be so much fun,' says Corsano. 'You learn so much about that one person you're playing with. A person like Joe McPhee, for instance, he subverts the idea of music in terms of what I do to respond to what he does, which surprises the hell out of me still. But I don't think Joe would call himself a jazz player. There are some really angry things in what he does, but it can be really haunting as well.'
More recent collaborations include an ongoing partnership with artist and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Graf under the name Soliton, as well as with Rasmussen.
'That's a new duo,' Corsano says of the latter, 'and it still feels really fresh. It's great you can still jump into something new and build from that. I didn't know Mette from before, but now I'm the older one finally. I'm not the young drummer anymore.'
One partnership that is unlikely to be rekindled is with Bjork. While Corsano enjoyed the experience, playing stadiums and the main stages of festivals was 'a different reality to what I was used to. You're playing all these major stages around the world, and then you wake up and think, "Did that just happen?" I don't know if I'd do anything like that again, to be honest. There was never enough time to get the sound right at these places, and you'd be all over the place, drumming, and trying not to get lost. In a way it's kind of validated my position playing small, underground places. It was some carry-on, but I guess I'm out of that one now.'
While Corsano appears on a multitude of recordings, both solo and with numerous collaborators, including five releases in 2013 alone, given his tireless range of activity, gaps remain in his back catalogue.
'A lot of stuff does get lost,' he says, 'but it's refreshing when someone steps up and wants to release something I've done, but even then things slip through the cracks.'
However many CD-Rs and short-run releases Corsano and associates might put out, experiencing him play live is something that can never be fully captured on record. This is something Corsano more than anyone seems to recognise.
'I'm kind of a creature where a live setting is where I feel most at home,' he says. 'That ephemeralness seems central to the improvisatory aspects of playing live, and I kind of live for that. I always end up doing different things with different people, and I'm always trying to surround myself with people better than me. So far, I think I'm doing pretty well.'
Braw Gigs present the Flower-Corsano Duo with Ashley Paul and Acrid Lactations, Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, Sun 13 Apr.