When I first heard Flynn Cohen (several years ago) he was playing backup guitar behind three stellar fiddlers who were wowing the audience with an array of fancy stuff. It wasn’t until late in the concert when Flynn did a solo set that his ability to similarly dazzle was displayed. Since that time I’ve come to admire his playing for his willingness to understate. Or perhaps another way of saying that is that Flynn doesn’t play a note unless it needs to be played.
His latest solo album, Fierce Modal, is a daring effort consisting of entirely original instrumentals. It opens with a gentle meditation he calls “End of an Era”, which gave me an image of a pool of water, glimmering in sunlight, but seemingly standing still. Then you realize that the water is moving – not very fast, and not very far, but in a very logical way.
The second number, “The Good Part” introduces his one co-conspirator, Duncan Wickel, who comes in with a haunting Appalachian sounding fiddle. The tune changes character second time around when the fiddle drops out and Flynn takes over on mandolin (he’s also playing guitar behind it all). He then drifts into a guitar solo, clean and joyful. The fiddle rejoins, then the mandolin, and the piece has somehow resolved from it’s almost spooky start to a comforting conclusion.
Lizzies’s Wedding March is a perfectly voiced Renaissance-flavored piece – very lovely, with the ethereal tempo suggesting a contemplative journey to the altar. Renaissance re-emerges in two later pieces, “Dartington Galliard” and “Master Nigel Heaton, His Galliard.”
Dougie’s Trip to Heaven is an easy going waltz that is easy enough to listen to until you realize it is played in the key of B, which has five sharps. While occasionally you here of pianists that have an affinity for this key (since it uses ALL of the black notes), I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a “tune” written in this key. Kudos to fiddler Wickel, who displays no sign of struggle in his playing of the melody.
Earlier I mentioned that Flynn does not waste any notes. But there’s more to it than that. Many of the pieces have him playing multiple instruments, and the orchestration throughout it very engaging – much like a pleasingly seasoned culinary dish that is comprised of unique and discernible components.
My one disappointment is that the collection is fairly short – a total of nine tunes, many of them fairly short. From a consumer perspective this is not a problem: the album is solid online for $9, or $1 for individual tunes, so it’s fair value. However, having grown up on vinyl, I am still looking for the album experience, and I was still wanting to hear more when the last track was done. But that’s just fine – I’m sure eventually there will be more where this came from.