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Chris Corsano/Bill Orcutt - Brace Up! Music Album Reviews


On their studio debut, these frenzied improvisers tap the ecstasy and explosiveness of their onstage chemistry while capturing their ideas and enthusiasms in vivid, glorious detail.

Less than a minute into Brace Up!, the guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Chris Corsano call a temporary truce. The pair have been locked in a tussle for 50 seconds, with Orcutt jabbing a guitar tone like rusted but somehow sharpened steel violently into Corsano’s unrelenting cavalcade. So Orcutt stops, letting his amp whimper as Corsano dances inside the beat. Someone in the studio yells out in giddy adoration. Seconds later, they’re back at it, Orcutt turning the sparring contest into a battle of attrition by strumming the same note until they both collapse, as though slipping on a puddle of shared sweat. Those hoots and hollers and temporary feelings of sudden exhaustion are minor but telling details throughout Brace Up!, the studio debut for this long-running instrumental tandem. Only two tracks here were captured in front of a crowd, but they help make these dozen tangles—and the whole album, really—feel like one meticulous live recording, an onstage exhortation unmitigated by pre-production plans or post-production tweaks. In its ecstasy, Brace Up! feels instantaneous.



You have ample reason to assume Brace Up! is a complete live album. During the last five years, Orcutt and Corsano have released a red-hot streak of onstage documents, from ultra-limited singles and cassettes to two full-length compendiums that strung together assorted highlights into knotty wholes. And outside of this partnership, both prolific improvisers have a reputation for gripping live releases: Many of the essential memento mori of Harry Pussy, Orcutt’s band that dispatched rock’n‘roll into noisy oblivion, are captured concerts. Corsano has issued sets with saxophone maverick Evan Parker and a gripping trio alongside cellist Okkyung Lee and guitarist Bill Nace. Brace Up! takes care to preserve that first-take feeling, from the way Orcutt’s squeals and whoops suggest a crowd urging them ahead to the methodical arcs in momentum. When they finally relax, for instance, after a mid-album sequence of four explosive tracks, each lasting less than 90 seconds, it feels like they are responding to you, the listener, in real time.

But this two-day studio session in Brussels allowed them to capture their ideas in high definition, so that the intricacy and involvement of what they’re doing is unmistakable. More often than not, it is astounding. As Orcutt shouts and squeals along with his splintering quasi-riff during “Amp vs. Drum,” Corsano surrounds every guitar note with a seeming orchestra of drums. During “Clapton’s Complaint,” Orcutt seems out to prove he can outpace everyone, shredding for 36 seconds not like Clapton’s foil but instead like the anti-Yngwie. “The Secret Engine of History” is a more finessed take on Lightning Bolt’s brand of melee, the duo picking its way through dense briars rather than just mowing them down. Recalling the collaborations of Steve Gunn and John Truscinski, “Love and Open Windows” is a simmering blues meditation that constantly threatens to explode. But they always pull back, a tempestuous tease stuck on repeat. Together, Orcutt and Corsano have never sounded so vivid and motivated, propelled by an energy that feels like true collaborative joy.

Apart from the duo’s technical aplomb and contagious enthusiasm, the real wonder of Brace Up! is just how visually evocative these dozen songs can be. Close your eyes and let your mind adjust to the high-velocity interplay, as though you were stepping into the summer sun after a nap in the shade. The combined force and speed of “Bargain Sounds” conjures an image of, say, Shaquille O’Neal moving at a greyhound’s pace. During “Double Bind,” Orcutt and Corsano constantly zip past one another, the guitar inching its nose ahead only to fall behind again; it’s like watching twin sports cars race down mountainside curves, shooting across double-yellow lines to take the lead. Halting and circular, “Love and Open Windows” is the feeling of waiting for a fever to break, the pounding in your head all-consuming no matter what you do; during the last minute, it finally subsides, and both Orcutt and Corsano seem to step back with sighs of relief.

This is jarring music, no doubt, that delights in the sculpture of cacophony and the control of chaos. But that sensation of staring into the din and being able to extract something from it, of allowing it to take your mind somewhere that neither you nor this duo intended, is both an endless reward and a rarefied goal for such seemingly splenetic music. These aren’t soundtrack baubles or pastoral pleasantries, built with the intention of framing a scene or inducing an unambiguous mood. But they do it, anyway, even if the images are as fleeting as these frenetic jams.


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