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John Butcher: Bell Trove Spools

Eyal Hareuveni By

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British saxophonist John Butcher is one of the most innovative and influential saxophonists to emerge in recent decades. Butcher introduced a new conception of the saxophone—not just a horn instrument but a resonant metallic tube in which the properties of air moving through are investigated in relation to amplification devices as a microphone positioned inside the bell; using it as a device for controlling and modifying feedback; and in relation to the unique acoustic spaces in which he plays.

The first five solo improvisations of Bell Trove Spools feature Butcher playing tenor sax in front of an audience at the Richmond Hall, a Houston, Texas art gallery housing a permanent installation by minimalist sculptor Dan Flavin that has been compared to a bowling alley. Butcher begins his program with "A Place To Start," testing a whole spectrum of sounds within this space, using circular breathing, all with total and fluid command of the instrument. On "Padded Shadows" and "Willow Shiver" he turns the sax into an alien percussive instrument by using rapid blows and tapping the sax body.

The eleven minutes of "Perfume Screech" are magnificent. Butcher still experiments with sound, but manages to blend gentle, emotional melodies. He employs in this open-ended piece a wealth of sonic possibilities- subtle bird calls, playful tongue flaps on the mouthpiece, sheets of distorted sounds, but still balancing between the experimental and the accessible components. He concludes this program with the contemplative "Unspeakable Damage."

The other five short improvisations were recorded at the high-ceilinged marble room in Brooklyn, the new home to Issue Project Room, without an audience. Butcher plays on these thematic improvisations on soprano sax, taking advantage of the room's exceptional acoustics. The passionate "First Dart" plays with reverberating overtones unti it sounds like a sax choir. The "Second Dart" stresses delicate elements of space and silence, while he creates a lyrical texture of sounds that resonate within the room on "Third Dart." On "Fourth Dart," he uses circular breathing to produce a dense cycle of beautiful sounds. The concluding "Egg" returns to his experimental mode, playfully researching sonic breaths.

Butcher never binds himself to a distinct improvisational approach. All these improvisations and sonic explorations sound innocent, fresh and surprisingly engaging.


Track Listing: A Place To Start; Padded Shadows; Willow Shiver; Perfume Screech; Unspeakable Damage; First Dart; Second Dart; Third Dart; Fourth Dart; Egg.

Personnel: John Butcher: tenor saxophone (1-5), soprano saxophone (6-10).

Title: Bell Trove Spools | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Northern Spy


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