TTW#17 - John Butcher - Trace
Cassette only – limited edition of 250 copies
SOLD OUT – audio archived at www.thewire.co.uk
A1: Merri I - 8m20s
A2: Merri II - 7m44s
A3: Merri III - 7m42s
B: More of an Urge than an Idea - 19m26s
Merri I, II, III: tenor and soprano saxophones, recorded in concert 30 Oct 2009, L’Eglise Saint-Merri, Paris by Augustin Muller. Thanks to Frédéric Blondy and Bertrand Gauguet. More of an Urge than an Idea: saxophone controlled feedback and piano (one player), recorded 10 Feb 2010, Bernie’s Boudoir, London.
Illustration – Lorraine Elektronik.
John Butcher's work ranges through improvisation, his own compositions, multitracked saxophone pieces and explorations with feedback and extreme acoustics.
Originally a physicist, he left academia in 1982, and has since collaborated with hundreds of musicians - including Derek Bailey, John Stevens, Gerry Hemingway, The EX, Gino Robair, Rhodri Davies, John Edwards, Toshimaru Nakamura, Eddie Prevost, John Russell, John Tilbury, Paal Nilssen-Love, Phil Minton and Steve Beresford.
He is well known as a soloist, recently exploring unusual site-specific acoustics, and has released seven CDs of solo saxophone music. He has toured and broadcast in Europe, Japan, North America and Australia, and was featured, playing solo, in the BBC TV programme Date with an Artist.
His compositions include pieces for Polwechsel, the Australian Elision Ensemble, the American Rova Saxophone Quartet, Futurist Intonarumori and “somethingtobesaid” for the John Butcher Group.
Recent projects include Thermal with EX guitarist Andy Moor & Thomas Lehn, and the wind trio The Contest of Pleasures with Axel Dörner and Xavier Charles.
He values playing in occasional encounters - ranging from large groups such as Butch Morris' London Skyscraper and the EX Orkestra, to duo concerts with Otomo Yoshihide, Fred Frith and Akio Suzuki.
This new John Butcher release on the Tapeworm cassette label features two distinct works from the legendary Brit improvisor, the first (on the A-side) capturing a concert recorded last October at L'Eglise Saint-Merri in Paris, featuring unaccompanied tenor and soprano saxophone solo work, the second (on the B-side) taking more of an abstract and intimate feel. This latter piece, titled “More Of An Urge Than An Idea” merges sax, controlled feedback and piano, all seemingly played simultaneously by Butcher in an act of elaborate, one-man-band style autonomy. Across nearly twenty minutes, Butcher coaxes some incredible sounds from his horn - sustaining deep, resonant tides of feedback tonality, whilst intermittently harmonising or punctuating all this with the subtlest of piano keyings. Through certain stretches you'll even encounter some ear-defying percussive runs; it's extraordinary stuff. In the light of such innovations the A-side's concert recordings could easily seem comparatively humdrum, but in the fine tradition of fellow experimental soloists such as Evan Parker, Butcher's performance is filled with clever melodic developments and ferocious explorations of overtones. The natural reverb of the Church setting further adds to to the power of the document and late into the set, Butcher's staccato, quack-like voicings play off the performance space's acoustics. Trace is quite some album, and certainly one of Tapeworm's most memorable outings to date.
Aquarius Records (US):
We had never been that interested in the music of John Butcher, an accomplished improviser and saxophonist, a master of skronk and squeal, whose electronically treated sax is capable of whipping up a serious sonic storm, and who has played with a ton of other incredible musicians, Derek Bailey, Phil Durrant, Eddie Prevost, etc. Not sure why, but for whatever reason, lots of the Butcher stuff we've heard just didn't do it for us. But doing a bit of research after getting this tape in the mail, we're thinking maybe we just weren't hearing the right stuff, seeing as Butcher is much more than your run of the mill avant improv jazz guy, treating his saxes, processing them into strange buzzing drones, and haunted layered pulses, exploring space and timbre, recording in caverns and caves, metal containers and abandoned railway stations and we should know by now that UK cassette label The Tapeworm would not lead us astray.
Two side long live improvisations, the first a three part epic for tenor and soprano saxophones, that takes the sound of the saxes and adds all sorts of grit and buzz and crackle, it almost sounds like an old crackly record of a sax solo being played in a big empty hall, multiple saxes are layered and the overtones throb and undulate, the sounds crumbling and moaning, ringing out, wreathed in a super spacious natural reverb, totally mesmerizingly intense and beautiful. It does get a bit more traditionally jazzy part way through, but even then, the sound shifts from blown out drone, to wild chaotic skronk, to spaced out fluttery dreaminess, to incredibly high pitched symphonies of tangled whistle, that at times almost sounds like guitar feedback. Intense!
And speaking of feedback, the flipside is in fact a sprawling 20 minute piece for “saxophone controlled feedback” and piano, and consists of deep swirling tones, lustrous fields of muted shimmer, the piano not so much being played as offering up sympathetic vibrations, the whole thing delicate and crystalline, long stretches of hushed distant keening, slipping into warm bell like swells, deep low end rumbles, all laid atop one another, creating a sort of ethereal sonic field of abstract melody, until finally (or perhaps for the first time audibly) the piano enters, offering up isolated plinks, allowed to ring out, as the feedback swirls around each note sympathetically, creating something truly mysterious and otherworldly. So nice.
Le Son du Grisli (France):
Un beau solo (aux saxophones soprano & ténor) d’octobre 2009 en l’église parisienne de Saint-Merri occupe la première face de cette cassette : mise en ébullition, plateaux à diverses températures, les matières deviennent malléables et l’espace est rauquement retaillé, feuilleté, piqueté et refendu. L’autre versant de ce document offre vingt minutes particulièrement intéressantes durant lesquelles Butcher travaille en sculpteur sur des feedbacks qu’il façonne – dans la continuité des expériences conduites par exemple sur le disque Invisible Ear. Une exploration assez envoûtante.
Foxy Digitalis (USA):
The limited scope of many cassette releases (and my lack of diligence in hunting down the large-scale ones) threatens to give them a diminished appeal at list-time, making it hard to see them as anything more than a series of missives from the teeming underground. But in terms of sheer execution, I found it hard to beat John Butcher’s set of solo saxophone on the always-entertaining Tapeworm label. It’s well-recorded—you can hear the room breathing powerfully, although, strangely, not Butcher himself—but Butcher’s playing is just fantastic, blowing incredibly dynamic high harmonics, squeals, and the occasional skronky noise with such force that it eventually seems to just be a display of sheer will. I’ll admit that this was the first time I heard Butcher’s playing, and maybe there’s a little bit of discovery-nostalgia at play, but no matter—this is tidy and truly awesome, the type of release for the cassette format that more improvisers should explore. [Travis Bird - best of 2010 list]