Graded on a Curve:
Chris Corsano &
Bill Orcutt,
Made Out of Sound

It may seem paradoxical, but when it comes to duo exchange, there is more than one way to skin a cat. On Made Out of Sound, released this week by the Palilalia label, drummer Chris Corsano and guitarist Bill Orcutt make clear that skinning a cat isn’t even required, which is good news, frankly. Instead, the creation of this LP began with rhythmic expressiveness captured on one coast as the guitar was added later on the other side of the country. The seven tracks finalized by Orcutt on his desktop, totaling under 30 minutes, present not an approximation of immediacy but illuminate how musical inspiration can overcome, if not entirely negate, the obstacles of distance and time.

I mention duo exchange in relation to this fine record partly due to the savvy musing of Tom Carter (he of Charalambides and other activities) that accompany Made Out of Sound, specifically his thoughts regarding the accuracy of the record’s contents as belonging to the form of musical expression known as jazz. To elaborate, the term duo exchange serves as the title of a landmark LP cut in 1973 by Frank Lowe (sax) and Rashied Ali (drums), an album that followed (by date of recording though not chronology of release) Ali and John Coltrane’s higher profile Interstellar Space (recorded in ’67 and issued in ’74).

As it plays, Made Out of Sound radiates a sustained commonality with the outer reaches of jazz, so that it’s clear the observation comes down to where the moldy figs are positioned. That is, in a nutshell, the views of conservative sticks-in-the-mud who bray that anything not inherently swinging isn’t jazz. However, the jazz/ not-jazz rumination also pertains to the record’s baseline mode of creation.

Forget overdubbing (Orcutt does multitrack his guitar on this set) and editing (as said, the LP was built on a computer), as both have been part of jazz since the 1950s. No, the question is, can jazz be made by two individuals who, for the purposes of recording, weren’t in the same room at the same time? “Who cares?” is surely the reaction of some readers, so please allow me to reframe it as an inquiry into the spark of spontaneity.

As the photo on Made Out of Sound’s cover emphasizes, the possibilities of the moment are vital to the work of Corsano and Orcutt, not just together, but extensively elsewhere in their discographies. It feels right to assess their music as reliably rigorous yet resistant to overcalculation. And always very, very fucking human, which directly relates to all this hubbub over the circumstances of recording.

Suffice it to say, in adapting their method out of necessity (no need to explain why), this album extends without a hitch the vital nature of their collaboration (across many live shows, some recorded and released, plus a prior studio LP, Brace Up!). Indeed, had they not detailed the manner in which this album was made, I doubt anyone would’ve figured it out, which isn’t to imply that Made Out of Sound is indistinguishable from earlier Corsano-Orcutt efforts.

This album’s success doesn’t undercut their favored approach, but instead highlights their adeptness at navigating new realities and retaining the essence of their pairing. It’s a sound that’s as much in line with psychedelia as it is jazz, but with the caveat that Corsano and Orcutt have long dispensed with non-abstract formal anchors.

To put it another way, Made Out of Sound doesn’t Rock, though the flights of San Fran ballroom-like beauty from Orcutt, hitting an apex in closing track “A Port in Air,” could possibly sway those for whom structure is a requisite, particularly when coupled with Corsano’s foundational firepower. Unsurprisingly, their work does fit the designation of free-rock, but still; there is a current of…well, the ecstatic, coursing through this record’s grooves that brings me back to the glories of duo exchange.

That Made of Sound doesn’t negate the nature of its conception is absorbed not in a lessening of effectiveness but rather through an abbreviated quality (individual tracks and cumulatively) that seems attributable to how the LP was made. This succinctness (potentially intensified by relatability) has its own charm. It’s only in the abrupt (but not jarring) denouement of “A Port in Air” (or rather the seconds of silence immediately afterward) that suggests this isn’t Corsano and Orcutt’s preferred way of doing things. That they hammered out a masterpiece anyway makes the listening even sweeter.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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