Live: Chris Corsano Redefines The Drum Set At The Stone


Chris Corsano
The Stone
Thursday, May 4

Better than: A drum solo.

At Chris Corsano‘s solo performance at the Stone last night, the punchline was on anybody who’s ever made a drummer joke. The 36-year-old musician played an astounding set that both redefined the instrument and created a coherent 35-minute piece of music that never ceased in its hallucinatory and resourceful improvisation. Chatting with friends in the crowd, Corsano—who has a new solo drum album, Cut—stationed himself behind a traditional kit, and casually prepared it, tying a cloth to one drumhead, placing small metallic sculptures on others. He began with a pair of bows, scraped along a bowl pressed onto the floor tom to create a rich drone. A small set of strings was strung across a second snare, and he bowed this too, making a chord. Overtones shifted as he alternated the bows’ patterns against one another. Gradually and almost imperceptibly the drone shifted into rhythm, Corsano’s wrists flitting microscopically, like insect wings—the kind of heartbreakingly articulate motion normally ascribed to violin prodigies—and some seven or eight minutes into the show, he finally played his first beat.

behind Bjork circa 2007’s Volta, Corsano is among the best free drummers of his generation, and his set was marked by a breathtaking, unceasing invention. When the beat finally arrived and he began to tumble across the drums, the insect finesse demonstrated in that initial transition remained and the rest of his performance glowed with a kind of anything-can-happen psychedelic dew. Perhaps in punk retaliation to the hippie-funk bent of popular jazz through the ’90s, Corsano and his northwestern Massachusetts contemporaries belong to a decidedly anti-groove school, and as Corsano charged across the drums, the spaces between beats constantly recalculated themselves magically, new thoughts and melodies described and discarded.

More than rhythm, Corsano’s drumming was about texture, which was where the true punchline lay: that an unamplified drum kit, prepared and played with such control is perhaps actually capable of far more expression and a broader array of sounds than any just-intonation stringed instrument. Corsano moved through sticks rapidly, at one point turning over a pair of brushes between beats to alternate between hard snare hits and wispier colors. From everywhere, he pulled new objects—bowls, blocks, gongs, sticks—to force down on the drumheads in a quick arrangement, sometimes flying off to the ground around him, occasionally landing back in arm’s reach for a second go-round. He pulled the cloths over the drums. More sound. The result was a vivid, linear improvisation that—minus the visuals of Corsano actually performing—resembled a meticulously cut-up tape collage. He paused two or three times, but it barely registered.

Always, despite the frenetic twists, Corsano returned to that basic finesse, bottoms dropping out of tangents and the drummer reverting to the kind of quiet where street noise dribbled serendipitously into the music. They were moments of solitude within a set that already felt like a thoughtful sanctuary. Sometimes, he would nearly stop altogether and continue by tipping one of the drums slightly and letting it resonate. And always, it was musical, an imaginary ball kept unquestionably in the air. There were other diversions. He added tones with a small wind-chime like device that he dangled from his mouth, dinner forks attached to pick-ups and resonating warmly through an amp. Despite the electricity, it hardly felt like an intrusion, just more finesse.

Critical bias: Tried playing a drum set with butter knives after watching Corsano do it.

Overheard: “It’s like every show here is $10, everybody who plays here is required to make a joke about the stage being in front of the bathroom door. It’s [John] Zorn’s fault.”

Random notebook dump: Corsano blowing into clarinet plunger-bong.