John Butcher is an established improviser in the European creative music milieu. His exceptional approach to reed playing has been chronicled on numerous recordings, but until recently the majority of these releases have been limited to European circulation or as expensively priced imports. His new disc on Meniscus offers a two-fold benefit for listeners unfamiliar with his music. First it delivers a generous helping of music at an extremely affordable price. Second, and more importantly, the disc places Butcher in the unique and spontaneous setting of duos with a string of American musicians he had only limited familiarity with before performing. Derek Bailey is famous for arguing that collective improvisation is most effective among players who are meeting for the first time and Butcher’s collaborations with many of this musicians seem to bear out the accuracy of this proposition. Several of the Europeans also featured on the disc are Butcher’s longtime collaborators, but haven’t been previously recorded in such pared down circumstances with him. Included for good measure are a quartet of solo pieces that center complete attention on the saxophonist’s incredible technique.
The first several tracks find Butcher in the company of percussionist Gino Robair and the two shuffle over a shifting terrain of whirring harmonics and teeth chattering clucks while in the process devising a provocative concurrence of ideas. “Late Impromptu” is a duet with the bowed oaken bass of Frangeheim that serves as a calming prelude to the more convulsive solo chirruping found on “1st and 2nd Singularities.” The next three pieces are conversations with Veryan Weston and the pianist’s frequent use of restless clusters fit well with Butcher’s choppy phrasing. “Anomalies” is awash in alien analog buzzes and blurts thanks to Lehn’s furious improvisations behind his synthesizer set-up. Butcher’s own flurries fit in well as he and Lehn trade ideas in a hushed language of electric clicks and hums. On “The Step Sequence” Butcher embraces technology even further amplifying his instrument and engaging in an abstract dialogue with writer turned moonlighting improvising guitarist John Corbett. “The Late Approach” is a brief but humorous repartee between Butcher and Chicagoan Bishop as warbling brass cavorts in unison with high register soprano. Violinist Kapsalis’ sharply acrid bow delivers similarly suitable accompaniment on “The Interior Design.” Fred Lonberg-Holm shows up for a brief cameo on “The Only Way Out” and the resemblances between bowed cello and whistling tenor become uncanny. Two more solo pieces and a trio of improvisations with multi-faceted percussionist Michael Zerang close the disc out. Many of these pieces are abstract in the extreme, requiring assiduous listening, but those who take up the challenge posed by their perplexing sonic surfaces will certainly be rewarded.
Track Listing: Phlogiston/ Caloric/ Late Impromptu/ 1st Singularity/ 2nd Singularity/ Routemasters/ Sea They Think They Hear/ Gil Thread Dream/ Anomalies In The Customs of the Day/ The Step Sequence/ The Late Approach/ The Interior Design/ The Only Way Out/ 3rd Singularity/ 4th Singularity/ Cold That Bites/ Shadow Play/ Clackchat.
Recorded: 6/22/97, Oakland, CA (1, 2); 7/28/97, Kingston, UK (3); 11/23/97, London, UK (4, 5); 2/7/98, London, UK (6, 7, 8, 14, 15); 2/18/96, London, UK (9); 6/30/97, Chicago, IL (10, 11, 12, 13); 7/1/97, Evanston, IL (16, 17, 18).
Meniscus recordings are available directly through North Country Distributors (http://www.cadencebuilding.com)
Collective John Butcher- tenor & soprano saxophones; Gino Robair- percussion & preparations; Alexander Frangenheim- double bass; Veryan Weston- piano; Thomas Lehn- analogue synthesizer; John Corbett- guitar; Jeb Bishop- trombone; Terri Kapsalis- violin; Fred Lonberg-Holm- cello; Michael Zerang- multiple percussion; tubaphone.