My first job at 16 was washing dishes in a local restaurant. It was a tough job, but I was able to work with a lot of older, “cool” people. We talked about music in the kitchen regularly. One of the servers I got along with once told me he enjoyed getting stoned and listening to drums solos—something I thought was weird, at the time. It wasn’t until I dug deeper into the fringes of rock, and eventually jazz, that I could appreciate the technical feats and musicality of solo percussive performance, which my coworker was so fond of.
But simply hearing a drum solo is only half the charm—the physicality of performers like Max Roach, Tony Allen or even John Bonham is worth YouTubing, even if you’re not a music nerd. Chris Corsano is also definitely worth looking up – he’s an accomplished drummer who’s worked with a slew of renowned artists like Thurston Moore, Jim O’Rourke, Björk, and most recently Bill Orcutt (whom you may recall from last year’s OBEY), with a career in experimental jazz drumming of almost 20 years. Fresh off a three week mini tour of the States, I managed to Skype with Corsano last week to chat about his upcoming OBEY show—something that’s been a few years in the making, actually—which will be his first visit to Halifax.
“In previous years I would look at the OBEY lineup and it would always be disappointing that I couldn’t go, so I’m glad I finally get to make one,” Corsano says. When I asked him what we could expect this year, he told me—unsurprisingly—that improvisation underpins his sets. “I don’t plan things out too much, but depending upon what I bring, [it] at least sets some parameters for what can happen,” Corsano says. He’s known for using non-traditional drumming implements during shows—something quite apparent in his own YouTube clips—and recently found a small wooden unicorn in a church goodwill bin. “I guess it truly is experimental music,” he jokes, “but I do actually like the [unicorn’s] sound.”
Corsano has a deep discography, and dropped “Cut,” a phenomenal solo LP of free jazz on Hot Cars Warp Records, last year. He frequently collaborates with other artists, too, most recently with Orcutt on their new effort “The Raw and The Cooked.” The album can be bought at your local record store on deluxe vinyl, and I asked the artist what physical media means to him in this day and age: “Being of a pre-mp3 generation, and also [from] working in record stores, the mp3 download feels like something’s missing,” he affirms. The 38-year-old musician started out recording in a time when SoundCloud was a distant reality, and seems happy to approach his releases in a more old school fashion.
Though he does prefer 21st century recording and the relative ease of modern home studios to yesteryear’s big, costly pro studios. He began experimenting with mic placement and drum configurations at home six years ago. “I started researching microphones and recording, reading a lot and bought a few mics on my own,” he says. One of his goals was to enable home listeners a sonic representation of what he hears himself, while sitting behind the kit. Corsano says he wants to replicate the intimacy of a live performance, but also that “I don’t think the recording would ever replace the live experience.”
Toward the end of our conversation I concluded that Corsano, despite all of his talent and years of experience, is incredibly down-to-earth. He remains humble in light of pretentious descriptions like “post-Ayler,” that have been used to describe him by people like me. “I don’t put too much stock in those labels,” he says, “sometimes it’s too lofty.” Whether he likes it or not, the man holds serious weight in the free jazz music scene. “Hopefully I can walk some amount of walk to back up all the talk,” he tells me as we concluded our Skype call.
Chris Corsano – June 8, 2013 at 7:30PM with Bird Project: Arthur Bull & Norm Adams and Worker.
To keep up to date with Chris, follow his website here – www.cor-sano.com
Interview by Jon Dempsey