John Butcher

Cavern with Nightlife
Weight of Wax

By Ken Waxman
March 7, 2005

Exposing new challenges and resolutions, Cavern with Nightlife is yet another object lesson in the evolving sound odyssey of British saxophonist John Butcher.

Already master of the solo and duo session, he expands the expected palate on these five tracks recorded in Japan. Using both soprano and tenor saxophone the first four pieces have him utilizing the acoustic resonance of Utsunomiya City’s Oya Stone Museum to conjure up enhanced, ever-shifting aural reflections, in the process often creating enough textures for a battalion of reed players. With this huge former lava quarry 60 metres underground and taking up an area of 20,000 square metres, massive reverberations are available. Recorded in a new Tokyo club, the CD’s final track is a first-time meeting between Butcher, adding amplified feedback to his tenor saxophone output and Toshimaru Nakamura, whose preferred axe is the no-input mixing board.Beginning with a great, bubbling gout of sound on “Ideoplast”, the first track, Butcher shapes stentorian reverberations with growls and tongue slaps. Soon he’s circular breathing a solid line of muffled vibrations, constructing his solo one slap at a time. Inert node extrapolation and other timbres attach and detach themselves as he plays. Climax is a sibilant wavering line following triple-stopped tonguing.

Mutated dog-like yips and whistles enliven “Mustard Bath” giving the impression that Butcher’s sax is simultaneously the pooch and someone calling the mutt. Beginning with a nearly unending volley of spewed notes sounds burrow into the gooseneck to acoustically resonate every unpolished node.

Despite its infelicitous title “Ejecta” doesn’t showcase spittle, but the convergence of echoing multiphonics first singular then solidified into another dense display. Encompassing reed percussion that resembles a double bass tone, growls and bites are inhaled and expelled, taking on the variable properties of repetition, pinpoint tongue slaps and glottal punctuation. Sped up and jarring, the finale discloses a series of discordant graceless (sic) notes whose resonation is distended by the properties of the stone and air around them.

If the first two-thirds of the CD captures Butcher’s accommodation with the results of disturbed nature, than “Practical Luxury”, the more-than-19-minute final track shows how Butcher confront mechanics and electricity. Since Nakamura, who abandoned the guitar in 1998 for this adapted set up and has since duetted with the likes of guitarist Keith Rowe, and turntablist/guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama, expresses himself through silences and muffled loops, the saxman also becomes the locus of the piece.

One part of Butcher’s oral strategy is to unleash tongue oscillation, rolling colored air and buzzing a continuum, so much so that you often have to remind yourself that it’s tenor saxophone he’s playing. Coleman Hawkins wouldn’t recognize the tone. Than again Hawkins never improvised alongside another musician whose stock in trade is often unfocused scrapes, clanging, bell-like signals and sine wave jiggles and twitters.

Butcher’s muted tongue-stops and resonant lip vibratos extrude even more starkly when the mixing boardist’s contributions centre on metal-upon-metal scratches, thinly distributed fluttering and echoing signals. With Nakamura’s timbres usually felt more than heard, they just as regularly appear to melt into general ambiance.

Using split-second response and silences to his advantage, the saxman is nothing but subtle, usually constructing his solos out of ghostly diaphragm vibrations and delicate tongue stopping. By the end Nakanura’s boosted and stretched waveforms pulsate to near-ambient space as Butcher propels a climax out of strident wheezes and extensive, rumbling key percussion.

Prepare another accolade to reflect the reedist’s steadily lengthening collection of mastered challenges.