Paul Flaherty, Randall Colbourne, James Chumley Hunt, Mike Roberson – Borrowed from Children (577 Records 5843. Album Review by Dan Bergsagel)
Saxophonist Paul Flaherty has spent much of the last 50 years as a musical iconoclast in the American North East, but since the early 2000’s has been prolifically featuring on records – with others, as leader, or solo – for a sweep of record labels. Borrowed from Children is his second for 577 Records.
The single release Brazen Eyes captures the spirit of the album, opening with a searching, looping, sax line. All is briefly normal, before the first unexpected pause – an interruption by a dramatic halting pause for breath. The pauses are orchestrated steps, compositional keys to bring in and develop the band: the electric guitar pulses, a muscular trumpet. Together moan, groan. Randall Colbourne gets a moment with his drums accompanied by guitar and the horns as a sideline, before it develops into an croaky storming opus.
Crude Gray Sky presents a juxtaposition of a relaxed back line and calm trumpet with Flaherty’s thrashing, anguished sax. Dark Leaves Linger summons a Mingus-esque clowned chaos, the clarity of James Chumley Hunt’s horn wrestling with choked squeals and a tenor call to arms. The despondent mood breaks on the concise An Old Man Gone, a hectic brain-melting and changeable musical tour, and the bonus digital vignette Cigar Store Bathtub – layering bubbling horns with hints of Mike Roberson’s Americana guitar bends and space-age submarine pings.
Saxophones and drums may be at the core of the group (Flaherty and Colbourne have been playing together since the 80s) but some of freshness comes from the (comparatively) new arrivals. The horn interplay with Chumley Hunt is clear and refreshing in its often stylistic contrast, but the addition of Roberson’s more psychedelic metallic sound, itself combined with Hunt’s trumpet, adds extra flavour to the broth which Flaherty is floating in.
A well-known Native American phrase proposes that instead of inheriting the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. It is this sentiment and the climate crisis that Flaherty is aiming to evoke with the urgent music on the album. Yet the language Flaherty often uses for his musical journey – of jostling jazz tribes, friction with a mainstream public, and artistic exile – which at first glance doesn’t quite sit. The climate crisis is something which requires radical change, but also public buy-in, unity and collective cooperative action.
However, the release of Borrowed from Children during an NYC-centred pandemic perhaps gives fresh insight. The compatibility of radical global restructuring (the rise of free jazz principles) begins to fall within the consensus framework of collective change (returning to a pre-industrial era respect for our environment); for the first time in decades it feels there is an impetus for that change. Flaherty himself explains his musical aspirations as a “Release to something greater, and hopefully allowing it to transcend the moment … Trust is the key and belief is the path.” Maybe now is the only time that Flaherty and free jazz can be both a symbol of a radical new age future, and a call to return to a revered nostalgic past.
The single Brazen Eyes is out today 30 April. The full album Borrowed from Children follows on 22 May.