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Steve Beresford & John Butcher: Old Paradise Airs

John Eyles By

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Recorded in May 2019, at London's Iklectik venue (which is located in Old Paradise Yard), Old Paradise Airs pairs Steve Beresford on piano, objects or electronics with John Butcher on tenor or soprano saxophone, a duo which dates back to 1988 when Beresford and Butcher (plus trombonist Alan Tomlinson) recorded a five-minute track for a compilation on the nato label, the rather unspectacular start to a long relationship. Since then, recordings featuring Beresford and Butcher together have been comparatively scarce, since Butcher rarely plays with the (Beresford-led) London Improvisers Orchestra these days. Despite the pair's occasional gigs together (see YouTube below), Beresford-Butcher duo recordings are quite rare, the last having been one side of the shared LP I Shall Become a Bat (Qbico, 2004). However, as demonstrated by the six oddly-titled tracks here, Beresford and Butcher retain a deep understanding of one another and both willingly allow the other space to express himself. Consequently, this duo album showcases the variety and unpredictability of each member's music.

The first track, "Krotyl," opens with distorted, low-frequency, electronic sounds which would not be out of place in a sci-fi movie. Within seconds, Butcher has selected and is playing his response, a short, repeated phrase which is actually quite jauntily melodic and gradually gets more complex as Butcher embellishes it in response to Beresford. It is not an immediately obvious choice but one which works and fits Beresford's sounds well; as Beresford's sounds evolve, Butcher's playing subtly shifts but without any unsettling U-turns or jump-cuts. That track's two-and-a-half minutes encapsulate this duo in a nutshell: both individuals ploughing their own furrow but ever mindful of and responsive to the other.

Next up is the album's longest piece, at just over eighteen minutes, "Dreen," which begins with low frequencies from both players, creating a mood which is sombre and atmospheric—again, ideal soundtrack material. Sometimes both together, but just as often singly, they gradually embellish this mood with more sounds and frequencies, including Beresford employing selected toys from his collection, such as a toy megaphone, as well as piano. Together or apart, they create a soundscape which is richly detailed without ever sounding sparse or cluttered; although improvised, everything sounds thought through and deliberate, the end result being a piece during which time flies by, so it demands to be heard again almost immediately.

In contrast, the album's next longest track, the fourteen-minute "Dirl," features Beresford playing fluid, fluent piano, both inside and outside, with Butcher adding occasional solos or prolonged sounds which are effectively accompaniment for the piano, an unusual reversal of roles. When playing together, they do not noticeably converge to common ground, as some improvisers are wont to do; instead, they are both sensitive to the atmosphere their music is creating and neither of them creates a mood that is at odds with the other's, with mood shifts happening gradually by subtle negotiation.

Track Listing: Krotyi; Dree: Swittle; Dirl: Marr; Pikk.

Personnel: Steve Beresford: piano, objects, electronics; John Butcher: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone.

Title: Old Paradise Airs | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Iluso Records

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