Music on seven occasions
Meniscus Records MNSCS 004

Points, snags and windings
Meniscus Records MNSCS 010

As amiable as he is adventurous, British saxophone explorer John Butcher rarely misses an opportunity to collaborate with similar intrepid musical explorers. Comfortable in a variety of formations, the two accomplished discs here highlight his duet work.

A superb pair, the main difference between them is choice of partners. MUSIC ON SEVEN OCCASIONS is just that, recorded over a three year period in the 1990s in different American and British studios, featuring nine partners plus four solo saxophone interludes. POINTS, SNAGS AND WINDINGS, on the other hand, has one fewer musician on board then there are nouns in the title. It's a record of duets between Butcher and Vancouver, B.C.-based percussionist Dylan van der Schyff, done last year in Vancouver.

The soprano and tenor saxophonist's improvising is always at a consistently high level and part of the fascination of these discs is to see how he reacts to different situations. Interestingly enough, despite the nine partners, OCCASIONS come across as unified as the other disc. In fact, by beginning and ending with a percussion-saxophone duet it almost becomes an infinite circle, a continuum of improvisation that starts up again after it seems to end.

More of a serial monogamist than a swinger — in both senses of the word — Butcher connects with the other players here on a level that, in non-musical circumstances, would be passionate. Each determines the rhythm of the other and parries and thrusts as hard or softly as warranted. Plus being considerate music lovers, neither climaxes until the other has come to a certain point as well.

Thus while the soprano entwines Jeb Bishop's macho plunger trombone notes in delicate, romantic lacy tones on "The Late Approach", swaggering, tenor saxophone ejaculations characterize Butcher going mano-a-mano with inventive percussionists Michael Zerang on "Cold That Bites".

Growling split tones enable the saxman to hold his own with the Bay area's Gino Robair, whose whacked out percussion and preparations often come on with the force of the U.S. Calvary swooping down on an armed Indian camp in a Western movie. Back in England, long time cohort, pianist Veryan Weston's rolls out a chord carpet for Butcher's elongated, reverberating multiphonics or on "Sea They Think They Hear" a miniature, sprightly sax ditty. Then, German tube terror Thomas Lehn's synthesizer rumbles, blasts and silences are met with nearly continuous, high-pitched, single note gyrations.

Coming across like an old married couple, compared to the numerous one night stands that make up the other CD, Butcher and van der Schyff's alliance proves just as arousing. Part of the Canadian group Talking Pictures, and a veteran collaborator with other improvisers, including his wife, cellist Peggy Lee, the percussionist knows when to be gentle in musical congress and when to be rough.

"Recent Realism", for instance, with Butcher on tenor, builds up to a mass of rapid percussive thrusts from the drummer with echoing double tonguing from Butcher. Between the saxophonist vibrating extended timbres that reverberate against the alloy of his horn and the steady scratch of sticks from the percussionist's cymbals, tunes like "Early Animation" and "Points" include enough heavy metal to attract the Kiss Army. Meanwhile "Under Glass" is one part breathy subterranean reed rumbles and one part restrained percussive interludes. It could be preserved in the museum case the title suggests to showcase the limits of volume and silence improvisers use.

Improv can be very low key as well, as the two demonstrate on "Attempted Delivery". Van der Schyff organizes one of the those busy solo forays, which sound as if the percussionist is using sticks and brushes to search through every part of his kit for a misplaced note, while Butcher contributes a series of tones that go from barely audible to full force.

Looking for the real deal in creative musical satisfaction? Go no further than here. Butcher's two sessions offer a veritable Kama Sutra of improv positions. The one you prefer will likely depend on your taste for variety and how agile you want each performance —and performer — to be.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: 1. Phlogiston 2. Caloric 3. Late Impromptu 4. 1rst singularity 5. 2nd singularity 6. Routemasters 7. Sea They Think They Hear 8. Gil thread dream 9. Anomolies in the customs of the day 10. The Step Sequence 11. The Late Approach 12. The Interior Design 13. The Only Way Out 14. 3rd singularity 15. 4th singularity 16. Cold That Bites 17. Shadow play* 18. Clackchat

Personnel: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones) with: Gino Robair [tracks 1, 2] (percussion and preparations); Alexander Frangenheim [track 3] bass); Veryan Weston [track 6, 7, 8] piano); Thomas Lehn [track 9] synthesizer; John Corbett [track 10] guitar; Jeb Bishop [track 11] trombone; Terri Kapsalis [track 12] violin; Fred Longberg-Holm [track 13] cello; Michael Zerang [tracks 16, 17, 18] multiple percussion, tubaphone*


Track Listing: 1. Early Animation 2. Windings 3. Pool Lights 4. Recent Realism 5. Points 6. Snags 7. Under Glass 8. Incision 9. Attempted Delivery 10. Spills 11. Combat

Personnel: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); Dylan van der Schyff percussion)