British saxophonist John Butcher and Norwegian percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg come together in a striking first meeting recorded live at north London's Cafe Oto in August 2015. Butcher brings to bear all the experience one would expect from one of the so-called second generation of English improvisers. Solberg, who co-curates Oslo's Blow Out! Festival each January, has worked extensively with other members of the same cohort such as pianist Steve Beresford and guitarist John Russell, so it's no surprise he is so well attuned to the reedman.
The pair exchanges a range of unconventional timbres which teeter deliciously on the cusp between music and noise. Although both Solberg and Butcher operate within a relatively narrow spectrum, they find no shortage of options to further their sensitive dialogue. Solberg alternates percussive attacks with more prolonged pitches, which by turns contrast and complement Butcher's saxophonic extremes. The reedman rarely plays a pure note, but instead shows exquisite control in extracting and stabilising fleeting fugitive tones between, or on top of, the notes.
A high degree of responsiveness is evident from the outset. "So Beautiful" begins at a processional, almost ritual, rate with Solberg's sombre tolling, while Butcher holds astoundingly precise reverberating split tones on the edge of disintegration. After a pause Butcher continues alone, his sustained multiphonics evoking chords, before Solberg joins scraping on his cymbals and drums. While Solberg never even reaches the outer bounds of settled rhythm, he nonetheless imparts a halting momentum. And on occasion it's shared. A notable passage on "To Rain" finds Butcher's reiterated saxophone yaps keeping pace with Solberg's galloping drum accents.
If not for the occasional cough, you wouldn't know it was a live performance. Happily the clear sound allows full appreciation of the subtle modulations and shifts central to both men's expression.
So Beautiful; It Starts; To Rain.
John Butcher: soprano and tenor saxophones; Ståle Liavik Solberg: drums and percussion.
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