February 16, 2010
AMM with John Butcher
Matchless MRCD 71
Polwechsel & John Tilbury
Adding a new element to an established entity even in improvised music can be liberating, upsetting or something in-between. This thesis is demonstrated on these CDs, with, for a variety of factors, varying results.
On Field for instance, where the distinctive pianism of British keyboardist John Tilbury joins the Austrian-German-British Polwechsel quintet, the resulting sound field is enhanced. Trinity on the other hand is more problematic. Here British saxophonist John Butcher – who was a member of Polwechsel when the first CD was recorded – adds his reed style to sounds created by the long-standing AMM duo of Tilbury and percussionist Eddie Prévost. Oddly enough the triangle appears unbalanced not from Butcher’s novel contributions, but from a bewildering reticence on the part of Prévost. This is especially puzzling since the saxophonist and the percussionist recorded a notable disc in 2005.
Inheritors of Vienna’s reductionist musical tradition, plus sonic extensions where instrumentalists expand techniques to achieve the flexibility of electronics without plugging in, Polwechsel’s core duo has been together since 1993. Butcher joined Austrians, cellist Michael Moser and bassist Werner Dafeldecker in 1997, while percussionists Burkhard Beins from Berlin and Austrian Martin Brandlmayr made the band a quintet in 2005. If anyone’s textures could fruitfully expand this recognized sound, than Tilbury is the prime candidate. Long-time interpreter of scores by Cornelius Cardew and Morton Feldman, he has since the 1960s been a fellow traveler to the every-shifting AMM band – which arguably invented British lower case Free Music – and a member of it since 1980.
On Field his interludes or perhaps fantasias, involve sweeping power that builds up to thickening note clusters and patterns which are then interspersed among Butcher’s strained vibrations and angled, sul tasto rubs from Moser and Dafeldecker. Although like most of Polwechsel’s work, the overlay is definitely chiaroscuro, piano arpeggios plus resonating smack and scrapes from the percussionists expose additional polyphonic colors. Antiphonal and melismatic textures also arise from melding of the saxophonist’s burbling breaths and the pianist’s split-second string stops. By the finale of Moser’s “Place/Replace/Represent” simultaneous reverberations from clipped keys, sizzling cymbals and thumping bass drums reach an appropriate interface.
A windstorm of droning textures illuminates the Dafeldecker-composed title track with exposed partials encompassing Butcher’s peeping split tones, Tilbury’s abrasive keyboard thumps and hand-stopped strings plus grating rattles from the percussionists. Angled bow sweeps, reed cries and occasional piano plinks confirm the acoustic properties of the tune. But the concentrated multiphonics also suggests the sort of motor-driven blur the sextet can create eschewing electronics.
If the rhythmic pumps from the dual drummers are understated on this CD, then percussion expansions are reduced to micro-tonality on Trinity. In fact most of the time Butcher’s reed-biting buzzes or bird-like chirps plus Tilbury’s metronomic pounding, are more prominent than Prévost’s stick-on-cymbal slides or affiliated tam-tam-like plinks. Only a few times on “Conduit” and the other tracks are the percussionist’s rattles, rubs, resonation and ruffs as aurally apparent as the others’ timbres. Perhaps some of the slide-whistle-like shrills come from Prévost, but in the main the strident trills and tongue-flutters can be traced back to Butcher.
On a track like “One Tree Hill” Butcher’s twittering corkscrew flutters and wide-bore intense split tones plus Tilbury’s uneven liquid arpeggios and low-pitched pedal-pressured rumbling repeatedly create an airy, near lyrical interpretation. Yet while the saxophonist’s squeezed tones are almost matched by the percussionist’s thin abrasive scratches, only Prévost’s knife-edge-like cymbal scrapes complement the pianist’s unmistakable chording.
A memorable one-off collaboration for an ensemble that now operates without Tilbury – and Butcher – Field suggests a novel expansion to the Polwechsel oeuvre Meanwhile, although the saxophonist’s characteristic improvising introduces another element to the long-time AMM interface, the music on Trinity appears to be unsettlingly reductive this time out.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Trinity: 1. Meantime 2. One Tree Hill 3. Flamsteed 4.Conduit
Personnel: Trinity: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); John Tilbury (piano) and Eddie Prévost (percussion)
Track Listing: Field: 1. Place/Replace/Represent 2. Field
Personnel: Field: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); John Tilbury (piano); Michael Moser (cello); Werner Dafeldecker (bass) and Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr (drums and percussion)