Red Trio + John Butcher: Empire (2011)
By inviting English saxophonist John Butcher to join them in a Lisbon studio, the Portuguese Red Trio executed a stroke of genius. Together they stretch pianist Bill Evans' democratic ethos to its logical conclusion: no-one leads, no-one follows, but paradoxically all four move as one, exploring timbre and mood across three collectively improvised cuts. The threesome's eponymous 2010 Clean Feed debut garnered many critical plaudits and the augmented follow-up looks destined to achieve the same result. Such collaborations are not a one-off: they have previously supplemented the trio's resources, having co-opted Americans trumpeter Nate Wooley and bass clarinetist Jason Stein in prior (unrecorded) meetings.
At the keyboard, Rodrigo Pinheiro accentuates the percussive characteristics of his instrument, avoiding tonal hegemony, often delving around the innards to dampen the resonance. While he sounds most conventional when the reedman isn't playing, even then his ringing arpeggios are likely to end unexpectedly in reiterated Morse code on muted strings.
Butcher demonstrates breathtaking control of unconventional tonalities, trading in carefully frazzled sax gymnastics and controlled multiphonics, at one memorable juncture simultaneously evoking voices just beyond the edge of comprehension and a buzzing didgeridoo. Bassist Hernani Faustino meshes with the kitchen-sink-and-all drums of Gabriel Ferrandini to create an engaging rhythmic latticework. But he also adopts oblique strategies, his hornlike arco work adding a ghostly wailing presence.
Butcher is totally absorbed into the idiosyncratic group conception. At the outset of "Pachyderm," it resembles a demented jazz quartet, with the Englishman's technique pushing his poised saxophone through a distorting prism, deconstructing the sound into constituent splintered shards and scratchy overtones. But in the quiet sections here and on the title track, extreme sensitivity characterizes the interaction. After an insistent passage of birdlike chirruping and whistles, the piece drifts into a dreamlike soundscape of scrapes, vibrations, drones and indeterminate noises, as if the instrumental sources are being distilled into their very essence. Pinheiro gets a piano interlude on "Empire" which sounds as if it is being played backwards, with sustained tones presaging a series of tumbling clipped notes. It's only towards the conclusion that the first melody on the disc emerges, but even here the saxophonist's lyrical musings are shot with overblown contortions. Wonderful music which shatters preconceptions.
Track Listing: Sustained; Pachyderm; Empire.
Personnel: Rodrigo Pinheiro: piano; Hernani Faustino: double bass; Gabriel Ferrandini: drums and percussion; John Butcher: tenor and soprano saxophones.