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Finn Peters: Butterflies

Chris May By

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After the best part of a decade immersed in dance, hip hop, Afro-Cuban, electronica and contemporary classical musics, flautist and saxophonist Finn Peters returned to his jazz roots with Su-Ling (Babel, 2006). An album made instantly engaging by its lyricism and rainbow of non-European musical influences, but which revealed its full beauty only after repeated listenings, Su-Ling, with the benefit of hindsight, stands as a quietly adventurous milestone in British jazz.

With Butterflies—featuring at its core the same quintet as made Su-Ling, this time augmented, but not overwhelmed, by strings, a Balinese gamelan ensemble, kora, synths, a few choruses of birdsong and some inventive sound processing—Peters has made another masterpiece.

The new album paints a similar picture as its predecessor, but on a bigger and yet more colorful canvas. It's not, much of the time, strictly speaking, a jazz album—contemporary classical and Eastern musics play more prominent roles than they did on Su-Ling—but it could only have been made by a jazz musician.

It is, primarily, a composer's album. Acknowledging the work of Olivier Messiaen and the nature-inspired sounds of Hermeto Pascoal as influences, Peters focuses the listener's attention on his deliciously quirky compositions and through-orchestrations. Guitarist Dave Okumu, pianist Nick Ramm and Peters himself, sometimes on saxophone, more often on flute, take "solos"—some of which sound improvised, others pre-composed—but typically, these emerge briefly and almost surreptitiously from the ensemble, before sinking back into it as though falling into clouds.

Some of the clouds have sunlight shining through—as on "Fax" and "Butterfly," the latter based on the traditional Balinese Butterfly and Bird Dance—with bouncy rhythms and prettily arranged, multi-layered flutes, strings and gamelan.

Others are darker. "Mayday," beginning gently but driven to increasing urgency by Peters' saxophone, suggests looming disaster (presumably, given the acknowledgement to Pascoal, environmental). "Moyse" switches with disconcerting rapidity back and forth between pastoralism and menace, Tom Herbert's bass and Tom Skinner's drums ebbing and waning underneath twisted keyboard textures. Okumu's guitar textures on "Pterodactyl" are primal and unsettling.

In all of this, Peters is superbly served by his co-producer, the cross-genre composer, remixer and bandleader Matthew Herbert. Amongst Herbert's prolific own-name discography is Plat Du Jour (Accidental Records, 2005), made of sounds entirely derived from food and its packaging. Not everybody liked it, but you had to admire the vision and the audacity. Herbert applies a lighter touch to Butterflies, which is resoundingly Peters' project, but it's a deeply empathetic one.

An astonishing and vibrant album. Su-Ling aside, it's practically sui generis.

Track Listing: Fax; The Nightingale; Butterfly; Mayday; Pterodactyl; Octet; Atlas; Moyse; Ottanta.

Personnel: Finn Peters: flute, saxophones; Dave Okumu: guitar; Nick Ramm: piano; Tom Herbert: bass; Tom Skinner: drums; Matthew Yee-King: sound processing, Supercollider, synths. Uncredited: strings, electronics, gamelan; kora.

Title: Butterflies | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Accidental Records


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