John Butcher: Cavern with Nightlife, New Oakland Burr & 13 Friendly Numbers

Kurt Gottschalk By

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British saxophonist John Butcher has become one of the preeminent voices in the world of veryquiet improv, having been a member of the supergroup Polwechsel and working with such artists as Rhodri Davies, Axel Dorner and Phil Minton. At the same time, he's pushed his horn into the role of feedback machine, close-miking it and turning up the volume alongside analogue synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and guitarist Andy Moor of the punk band The Ex.

John Butcher/Toshimaru Nakamura
Cavern with Nightlife
Weight of Wax

Despite such associations, Butcher is generally at his best solo and the first half of Cavern with Nightlife (the first release on his new Weight of Wax label) is the best documentation yet of his solo concerts. A November 2004 concert at the Oya Stone Museum in Utsunomiya City, Japan provided a natural resonance, a warm yet stark reverb for the concert. There's a tactile quality to Butcher's playing—reeds and pads are as much a part of the sound as breath and tone—and the first four tracks (27 minutes in total) exemplify that approach. The final 19-minute track pairs Butcher with Toshimaru Nakamura's slow, almost-silent processing of the internal sounds of a mixing board. The resulting duet is like two machines breathing: almost amusical, but extremely evocative.

John Butcher/Gino Robair
New Oakland Burr

Butcher's duo recording with percussionist Gino Robair is quite the opposite and shows the saxophonist in his less-documented high-volume mode. With a microphone amplifying the horn's mechanics and to create feedback, Butcher's playing is similar but the resultant sound very different. Robair's ebowed snare, Styrofoam and small motors make the duo explosively electric, even tense.

John Butcher
13 Friendly Numbers

Butcher's a hard player to peg, but the two facets of his approach become better defined when put up against the reissue of 13 Friendly Numbers, his first solo disc originally released 13 (friendly?) years ago on his own Acta imprint. Much of his personal vocabulary is in evidence—the flutters, the overblowing, the stutters and stops—but he's speaking in clipped phrases rather than thoughtful paragraphs. All but two of the tracks are under five minutes, suggesting perhaps the growth of a decade and the development of his approach. That he's made his own recording come to sound a bit dated is just a credit to his quest.

Tracks and Personnel

Cavern with Nightlife

Tracks: 1. Ideoplast (7:38); 2. Ashfall (4:38); 3. Mustard Bath (5:22); 4. Ejecta (9:21); 5. Practical Luxury (19:17).

Personnel: John Butcher: Soprano and Tenor Saxophones; Toshimaru Nakamura: Mixing Board.

New Oakland Burr

Tracks: 1. Throat Rust (3:52); 2. Poundering (2:44); 3. Wrong and Home (1:57); 4. Slug Tag (2:03); 5. Tucking (1:12); 6. Pudsey Surprise (0:46); 7. Cajun Squeal (1:23); 8. Whine Model (2:26); 9. Fid (4:45); 10. Snub (1:54); 11. 20p Uncle (2:56); 12. Peal (3:14); 13. Blagovest (3:14); 14. Vug (3:05); 15. One side is with a pea, the other pealess (2:59); 16. Louche (1:30).

Personnel: John Butcher: Soprano and Tenor Saxophones, Amplifiers; Gino Robair: Guitar, Cymbals, Ebo, Images, Toy Instruments.

13 Friendly Numbers

Tracks: 1. Buccinator's Outing (7:28); 2. Notelet (1:42); 3. There Are Today More Than 390 Known Pairs of Friendly Numbers (1:50); 4. A Leap in the Light (4:36); 5. Bells and Clappers (3:35); 6. Two Up-Two Down (3:59); 7. Humours and Vapours (4:02); 8. Uncommon Currency (1:03); 9. A Sense of Occasion (2:36); 10. The Brittle Chance (2:32); 11. Mackle Music Butcher (1:46); 12. Tolv Two Elf Kater Ten (4:12); 13. Wisp and Whisk (5:58);

Personnel: John Butcher: Soprano and Tenor Saxophones.


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