Henry Flynt

Raga Electric

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This retrospective is a sunny afternoon's dig around the musical archaeological site, in which surprising Flynt handicrafts are unearthed. Not quite the majestic temple of the extended works issued on the Recorded label, these are pieces that nonetheless provide illumination into other things the man was capable of during his experimental music days. The disc's title piece may ultimately not be something a listener will return to again and again, other than to perhaps provide an example to curious guests about what might be one of the most extreme recordings ever made. The vocal on this selection will arouse curiosity even among those hearing it all the way on the other side of a large house, if only because it is a vocal performance that resembles nothing else ever released. The same cannot really be said for the electric guitar playing that accompanies this sometimes horrifying vocal; what sounds like (but might not be) a pair of double-tracked guitars, slightly out of tune in junior's garage band mode, take a very simplistic approach to Indian raga indeed. Play the track for Indian classical musicians, and they will inevitably laugh it right out of the room. "Free Alto" is where he goes for it on saxophone, getting right into screaming overtones with the kind of conceptual forthrightness that marks the extreme solos of players such as Roscoe Mitchell and Marshall Allen. It is only the flabbiness of some of the pitches Flynt attempts that gives away his primitive technique on the saxophone, and to some ears the music would sound much better, screams included, if that weren't the case. This track may wind up being a laudable accomplishment in search of an audience, as the horn torture freaks who like this kind of stuff are probably going to say they prefer listening to the well-established heroes. OK, listen to a performance by a hornman in the latter category and this one side by side -- please. Not only will it be good clean fun, but surprised sax snobs may admit Flynt more than holds his own. Click back to the opening third of the set for the best music, however. "Marines Hymn" is the newest piece, the only one from the '70s and despite its title a haunting non-military work, again raga-influenced. With slight string accompaniment, Flynt turns in a concentrated and quite moving vocal performance, and this time the Indian musicians listening will nod in approval. A set of four short pieces entitled "Central Park Transverse Vocal" is the high point of Raga Electric. Knowing Flynt, there must be more to the concept than just showing up in one of those Central Park tunnels and recording weird vocals, but even if that's all this is about, it is a set of sublime moments on the trail of a visionary spirit captured up to his eyebrows in creativity, as usual.

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