As part of his 40th birthday celebration at Cafe Oto in January 2020, bassist Dominic Lash convened a quartet of some of the UK's finest improvisers, completed by guitarist John Russell
, saxophonist John Butcher
and drummer Mark Sanders
. With such experienced practitioners, there are any number of prior connections which help ensure a successful and empathetic outing.
Russell, who died in January 2021, was one of the so-called second generation of British improvisers, often working closely with Butcher who emerged in the same period, and both subsequently toured with Lash both as a trio and individually in other settings. Sanders, a fixture of the London scene, has worked with just about everyone, but even within such rich trade his collaborations with Butcher on Tarab Cuts
(Out Of The Machine, 2014) and Crucial Anatomy
(Trost, 2020) have been notable.
So clearly an appropriate degree of discernment has gone into the selection of musicians, and they amply repay the trust across two pieces, the first divided into three sections. There is a palpable sense of unspoken but shared group dynamics in play, such that suddenly congealing tidal waves rear from barely rippling stillness. Quick changing alliances result in constant recalibration as muscle mnemonics, inspiration and reactions combine in ways quicker than thought. All of this could apply to any number of sessions, but the key thing here is that it is done so well and produces perfectly attuned novel results. Everyone avoids the obvious so thoroughly that it is hard to know what the obvious would be.
The interplay moves from transparent to opaque passages, in which tiny details illuminate the peaks and troughs, such as the occasional synchronies which please the ear and fleetingly satisfy the mind's desire for order. At one point Butcher echoes a felicitous phrase from Russell's arresting litany of arid picks, disembodied chords and detuned plinking, utilizing it as source material in an evolving flow in which he plies an idiosyncratic mix of whistles, plosive yelps, and such a range of multiphonics that the word in no way encompasses the variety. But however unlikely the sound, it is one chosen with an ear to the context.
There are few real solos, rather the occasional spots where the exchanges have left someone unaccompanied for a few moments. Lash brings a composer's sensibility to the bandstand, exemplified by the way in which his deep arco waves support Butcher at the beginning of "Discerning 1." The juxtaposition speaks of control and restraint but proves a perfect fit, lending an elemental underpinning to the saxophonist's split tone swells. It reminds that architecture, no matter how spontaneous, can always enhance ambience, a notion regularly amplified throughout the proceedings.