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John Butcher/Phil Durrant/John Russell: The Scenic Route

Robert Spencer By

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Three improvisers with long resumes and magnificent virtuosity. Themeless improvised music that highlights the abilities of each musician to interact with his fellows and create a seamless whole of spontaneous composition. That is The Scenic Route by John Butcher, Phil Durrant, and John Russell.

The title may be derived from the unhurried nature of these 1998 performances, which bear the marks of mature craftsmanship. Although saxophonist Butcher is unafraid to employ multiphonic effects, and displays a post-Evan Parker familiarity with the uttermost reaches of his instruments' possibilities, this is not the flat-out screeching and wailing of the "free" music of cliché. Rather, this trio works in textures and moods, and works at stretching the possibilities of the instruments. All three players play percussively at various points: Butcher pops his pads (see especially "Buffet Balls"), Russell clangs his strings a la Derek Bailey, and Durrant streaks his bow into the cerulean stratosphere.

This is often music of surpassing beauty. Around ten minutes into "Heavy Merge" there is a characteristic passage: Butcher begins to play a tenor line of great delicacy which soon edges, abetted by Russell, into a percussive staccato attack. Finally there is a keening wail that could come from any of the three instrumentalists, and the dramatic transformation is whole. These three players are past masters at this sort of thing, and this music ebbs and flows in and out of a great variety of such moments as it takes its course along the scenic route.

Anyone who appreciates improvised music will find great treasures here.

Track listing: Heavy Merge / Belayed / Buffet Balls / Beyond Headlines / Climate Change.


Title: The Scenic Route | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Emanem

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