Monday, August 25, 2008

Matthew Welch & Craig Colorusso

Rusted Breath, Quiet Hands
This duo of Matthew Welch on alto sax and Craig Colorusso on guitar offer up two bare-bones spare tracks that inhabit a space between minimalism & free improvisation. Welch’s playing reminds me of Jef Brown’s most serene, non-braying playing in Jackie-o Motherfucker. Colorusso’s guitar work reminds me of Mick Turner (of the Dirty Three)’s solo guitar playing. Like Turner, in his solo work, Craig uses slow methodical playing, focusing on small simple sounds, absent of the cheap bombast of guitar heroics.

"Rusted Hands” starts off with a slow wail of an alto saxophone; it is soon joined by what sounds like a bowed guitar. Both players make long slow tones on their respective instruments, sometimes in unison, sometimes one building while the other fades away. It is not all drones. The alto sax does plays a melody but it is very slowly played; it is easy to be mistaken for just drone. The piece unfolds gradually. It is hard not to be hypnotized by the slow sway, like that caused by a snake charmer causing a cobra to slowly emerge from a basket. There is great power in this music; the power comes not from bombast, but restraint. At any moment one feels like it could burst forth in free jazz frenzy, yet it never does. Like the Melvins at their best, jamming on one riff, the tension builds, and builds, yet there is no release. The closest time it comes to the dam bursting is when the sax plays what to me sounds like a few notes of “Amazing Grace.” Unlike Jackie-o Motherfucker, they let the notes hang there in the air, purposely leaving it unresolved. “Rusted Hands” is a work of stunning splendor and contained power.

"Quiet Hands” starts out with a gently plucked guitar, while slow tones from the alto sax are played on top. The sax lets out moving moans, while the guitar rings clusters of small notes. Colorusso explores different variations on a limited number of notes, playing them slowly then fast, playing one or two then all. Welch gives space for the guitar notes. He lets them hang in the air, before joining in. At some point a pedal is hit and the tone changes; it is then retracted. Welch responds to it by playing a slightly sour note, like to tell his partner, “What was the deal with that?” There is a slight stumble, but this is part of improvisation; detours are what make it interesting. They both regain their composure and Welch lets out a heavenly tone. I am not sure if Colorusso is using a looping pedal or not. If he is, he slightly varies the loop constantly. The tone on the alto sax seems to expand as they journey further into the piece. It almost sounds like a tenor at points. At points the sax gets very near free jazz bleating, The guitar quickens its pace, before returning to its former glacial speed.

For all its minimalist austereness these two tracks are packed with deceptive complexity. Matthew & Craig are not show-boaters; they practice a discreet discipline which is admiral. The hardest thing to do in improvisation is to hold back. The easiest is wild skronk, bleating and braying (not that there is anything wrong with that). They manage to beautifully wed the divergent worlds of free improv with minimalism for a stunning effect. (Muud) (Dan Cohoon)