A new John Butcher solo album always sends a shiver of anticipation down the spine. Given Butcher's impressive track record as a solo explorer, any new release is sure to contain stimulating, exciting music. And so it proves here, with 2007's The Geometry of Sentiment
This music comes from five different dates between November 2004 and November 2006. More tellingly, it comes from five very different locations and playing situations. The two opening tracks were recorded on a return visit to Japan's Oya Stone Museum, the vast resonant space created by stone mining that was featured on Butcher's Cavern With Nightlife (Weight of Wax, 2002). On the first, Butcher plays with (in both senses) the echoes. Subtly varying their tone and attack, he allows time between his deliberate, measured phrases for the echoes to be heardliterally, playing with himself. Then, he is suddenly into a rapid-fire barrage of notessustained by circular breathingthat allows no space to hear the echoes, a duel for dominance between the sax and its own reflection. Butcher has pioneered the use of electronics in his playing, but here none are necessary, the cavern naturally providing similar effects to those that electronics can.
Even more experimental are two tracks on which Butcher does not blow through his saxophones, instead creating feedback and then playing it with the keys of his instruments. The end results do not sound much like saxophones, having a far colder, more brittle quality. As always with feedback, it is constantly on the verge of spiraling out of control, giving the pieces an edgy feel, like walking on a tightrope. Daredevil stuff.
Strangely, one of the more conventional pieces, "But More So,"is dedicated to the very far from conventional Derek Bailey. Of course, conventional is a relative term. The track sounds conventional in the context of this album, but for most other saxophonists it would be iconoclastic. The title of the piece refers to a comment from Bailey at a gig in the 1970s, where he was billed as playing blues guitar. During the opening piece, Bailey announced, "The music we'll be playing for the rest of the evening will be like this, but more so. Some of you might like to take the opportunity to leave now." A fitting tribute to the late, great.
The concluding track again shifts the scene, but links back to the opener. Recorded in Germany, inside the disused gasometer in Oberhausen. the vast space is even more resonant than the Stone Museum, with multiple echoes and a long delay time. Again the effect is similar to those created electronically, using loops, delays and multi-tracking. Butcher again demonstrates masterly restraint, enabling his playing to be enhanced by the acoustics, but also allowing the space to be heard to dramatic effect. He is playing the space even more than he is playing the sax. One could almost be inside that gasometer, so immediate is the sound.
A Butcher solo album is always a treat. This is well up to the usual high standard.