Sometimes three is a crowd, but when the company is as empathetic and welcoming as the fertile established partnership of British saxophonist John Butcher
and Swedish percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg, then the addition of veteran American bassist Barre Phillips
serves as more of a benediction.
Butcher and Solberg only came together in 2015, but the success of that encounter, documented on So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain
(Clean Feed, 2016), encouraged further liaison not only as a twosome, but also with other collaborators, such as Pat Thomas
as heard on Fictional Souvenirs
(Astral Spirits, 2018). Phillips makes an exceptional partner, testament to an unrivalled backstory, having worked with Eric Dolphy
, Archie Shepp
, and Jimmy Giuffre
in the '60s, then just about everyone on the European scene since waxing Journal Violine
(Opus One) (credited as the first ever solo bass recording) in 1968.
Each one has developed a mature language. Phillips is a master of free improvisation. Even in the first few minutes of "And Then" he effortlessly encompasses bow bouncing stutters, deep reverberant arco, high keening legato, a buzzy thrum and koto-like plucked harmonics. But he also brings a rich harmonic sensibility, befitting someone who records regularly for ECM, which adds another dimension to the discourse.
Butcher likewise enlists a bountiful vocabulary incorporating many flavors of multiphonics, along with grasshopper stridulations, a bagpipe skirl, juddering trills and mewling cries. It is not just the novel textures, but also the way he can morph from one to another and back, as if conversing in some alien tongue. Solberg supplies just the right amount of rattles and taps, sometimes in timbral exchanges, at others coalescing the assorted timbres and colors to create a tumbling momentum.
As ever with top quality improv, the micro detailthe vibrant palette of different colors and the relationship between themis intensely rewarding. It is not one of those sessions where the sound source is obscure. Although subsumed in the process, all three glory in instrumental possibilities and remain uncompromisingly individual. While attentive listening is apparent in the synapse-snapping responsiveness, the rejoinders always come with a dose of unanticipated magic. Even when their dialogue takes in conventional pitches the context makes them seem exotic. We MetAnd Then
derives from two separate concerts, the first in Berlin in 2018, the second from that cauldron of experimental freedom, the Blow Out Festival, in Oslo in 2019. "Vivid Inkling," a duo by Butcher and Solberg in a variously restrained or exuberant, but always receptive, tandem, and "Traveling," a solo by Phillips in which a series of bent note slurs beget a tale filled with intent and drama, stem from the first date, while the remaining four cuts are by the full trio.
Butcher and Phillips share a wonderful passage of interweaving split tones and reverberations on "Zero Tolerance," and the spark between them provides one of the standout qualities of the album, with Solberg always on hand to disrupt and keep them honest if things start to become too cosy.
And Then; Zero Tolerance; Chaudron Profond; Traveling; Vivid Inkling; We Met.
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