Paul G. Smyth & Chris Corsano

Psychic Armour
Weekertoft WKT CD 5

Like a contemporary King Canute holding back the tides of more commercial music, Dublin-based pianist and artist Paul Smyth remains Ireland’s most committed free music adherent. Although also a member of the post-Rock The Jimmy Cake collective, for unique challenges the pianist often leaves the country or imports players from outside to find appropriate collaborators. One such visitor with benefits was American drummer Chris Corsano, whose equivalent musical openness has allowed him to play with artists ranging from Bill Orcutt and Jim O’Rourke to Evan Parker and Joe McPhee. Reminiscent of labor negotiators gradually reaching accord, Psychic Armour’s three weighted wedges of unbridled improvisation metaphysically splinter sonic security to reach textures that are free, flexible and fluid.

Thrusting and feinting like fencers sounding out each other during a preliminary match, the duo’s initial strategy involves darkened rumbles affecting the soundboard and capotes on Smyth’s part, that build into kinetic tremolos, while Corsano’s cymbal shimmers and drum shuffles and spanks inject themselves among the spaces like spackling compound in knot holes. Climatically “The Through Line” defines the interaction in miniature as the drummer’s insistent rubs and scratches meet with see-sawing pianism, including staccato inserts. They are so in sync that a landscape-like portrait of infinite expression is suggested. Concluding with the 33-minute title track, the pianist’s nearly opaque sound mass, expands and deepens with the intensity of a mammal collecting supplies for winter hibernation, while the percussionist’s minimalist solo pierces the near-intractable density as if lobbing pebbles against an exposed car windshield. The resulting sound diorama utilizes pitch and tempo changes to uptick the performance from strings plucks and key pressure on one side and hammering bumps and droning rubs on the other. Attaining a focal point of frenetic vibrations, the narrative shatters to attain a relaxed interface that attains swinging cadence without losing clearly defined accents.

A self-contained journey that showcases unique artistry to its limits without letdown, the CD confirms Smyth’s ongoing commitment to advanced improvisation with the hope that players with Corsano’s skills will continue to challenge him.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1, Taming in the Power Cut 2. The Through Line 3. Psychic Armour

Personnel: Paul G. Smyth (piano) and Chris Corsano (drums)