Studio-recorded in London in July 2017, Blasphemious Fragments brings together an appealing improvising trio comprising vocalist Phil Minton, saxophonist John Butcher and percussionist Gino Robair. For Butcher, the trio reacquaints him with players he has known for decades; he and Minton recorded Two Concerts (FMP) together as far back as 1995, in a trio with German jazz guitarist Erhard Hirt; the two were half of the Phil Minton Quartet that recorded Mouthfull of Ecstasy (Les Disques Victo, 1996), inspired by James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and subsequently became a duo together. Butcher's association with Robair goes back nearly as far, the pair first recording together on 12 Milagritos (Spool, 1998) in a trio with bassist Matthew Sperry; in the years since, the number of albums featuring Butcher and Robair has reached double figures. Significantly, Minton and Robair had not recorded together prior to this album. Whoever credited it to Minton-Butcher-Robair knew what they were doing, giving Butcher the central position with links to the other two. Of course, despite their histories, all three musicians are adept at improvising in the moment with any other players, known or unknown, as is eloquently demonstrated here. Across eleven tracks, ranging in length from the two-and-a-half-minute "Minced and Gilded Oaths" to the ten-and-a-half-minute "Sumptuous Disturbances (and a Carol)," each of the three players is heard extensively as there is no doubt about who is producing any particular sound, and they are careful not to get in one another's way or mask other's playing. A sleeve photograph depicts Robair's conventional drums plus a bow alongside a table of electronics next to a grand piano miked-up inside; despite the range of choices available to him, Robair never seems to hop between them but, throughout, manages to deploy sounds appropriate to the contexts created by his bandmates. The opener, "So ladylike the muse unsqueaked a ray of hopk" (sic) is rather subdued and tentative, a gentle introduction to and for the trio; Robair provides an electronic backdrop over which Butcher adds spacious sax, building momentum throughout, with Minton all but invisible. The vocalist comes into his own on the next piece, the title track, with some of his typical vocal gymnastics, particularly in the lower register which is matched by Robair, with Butcher adding occasional single note punctuations. The piece demonstrates the three working well together, a point re-emphasised by the next two tracks, the three all reacting to the other players naturally without compromising their individual sounds. The longest track is a high spot of the album, providing a showcase for different facets of the trio, with solo spots allowing time for each of the three to stretch out between duo and trio passages. By comparison, some of the briefer tracks seem to end just as they are bursting into life. The album as a whole demonstrates the particular strengths of the trio. At its best, it suggests the group might benefit from playing longer pieces, possibly before a live audience. Next time out, perhaps?
So Ladylike the Muse Unsqueaked a Ray of Hopk [sic]; Blasphemious Fragments; Circumstantial; Maze of False Promises; Sumptuous Disturbances (and a Carol); A Simple Man with Irregular Habits; Ruttledge’s Door; Small Things, Hewn from the Same Block; Sustaining Vain Gestures on the Air; Blue night. In the Darkness of the Dome They Wait; Minced and Gilded Oaths.
Phil Minton: voice; John Butcher: soprano and tenor saxophones; Gino Robair: percussion, electronics, piano.