John Butcher/Leonel Kaplan/Christof Kurzmann

Shortening Distances
L’innomable 2013/No #

The Apophonics

On Air

Weight of Wax Wow 05

Common Objects

Live in Morden Tower

Mikroton CD 29

There’s a probing consistency in British saxophonist John Butcher’s music, with the following of unexpected paths one of its chief listening pleasures. Like many other peripatetic improvisers, the London-based soprano and tenor saxophonist is involved with many other musicians, yet as these sessions demonstrate, he maintains a consistency of approach.

Two out of the three discs are concert recordings and involve electro-acoustic interface, while the third is a radio/studio date. In terms of unbridled intensity The Apophonics’ On Air is the most rousing of the three, pinpointing the high-level perception existing among the saxophonist, British bassist John Edwards and American percussionist Gino Robair. More concerned with expositions and reactions to electronic processing, Shortening Distances and

Live in Morden Tower come from a separate mindset with unique plans and purposes. The former mates minimalist timbres from Argentinean trumpeter Leonel Kaplan and Butcher with interactive software from Austrian Christof Kurzmann’s ppooll. Meantime the showpiece on Live in Morden Tower is a half-hour plus interface among Butcher, his long-time associate Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies and the amplified devices and processes of Lee Patterson.

While by definition On Air’s parameters are unlike those on the other CDs, the performance puts it into the category of classic improv, where among pause and eruptions, each man connects with the others ingeniously, while keeping individual lines going. With the following shorter tracks serving as amuse bouche deserts; the main course is the more-than-36 minute, appropriately titled “Fires Were Set”. Setting the conflagration alight are Butcher’s distinctive long circular tones, rugged stops from the bassist and segments consisting of processed electronic friction and rubs from percussion implements. Never losing the forward thrust of the narrative even as the sound surfaces segment, pause and reassemble, each participant’s program contributes to the performance’s building elation. Toughened with tongue pops and pure air respiration, the saxophonist makes common cause with the bull fiddler’s low-pitched bowing reverberations plus Robair’s spinning oscillations and processed wave forms. Even a teeth-rattling interlude in dog-whistle-pitched stridency on Butcher’s part is accepted with sympathetic resolve by Edwards. Each man’s output eventually accedes to superlative tone-melding that’s almost serene. Eventually the climax confirms that bonding sensitivity can be contained at the same time as clanking string rubs and a fantastical display of quivering split tones confirms the participants’ instrument control.

Consisting of one long improvisation, Shortening Distances puts aside the suggestion of Jazz-like inflections that are heard On Air and replaces them with timbre-stretching at the softest possible volume. During much of the performance Kaplan reveals growling grace notes squeezed from mouthpiece suction, while Butcher responds with multiphonic snarls and slurs. Creating a secondary continuum with murky loops, Kurzmann’s repetative cicada-like pulses judder alongside the others’ tones, sporadically adding near-percussion whooshes and individual live samples. After a primary sequence appears to harden into an impenetrable sound mass, rubber band-like plunks, stretched brass flutters and shrill tongue quivers make pointillist breaks in the bulk. Finally mouthpiece sucks and squeaks, flat air blowing and time-stretching loop distortions are blended into a defining melody statement.

Put together 8½ months after the other CDs – which were recorded within five days of one another – Live in Morden Tower’s first three tracks are like chapter summaries, outlining what Butcher, Davies and Patterson do individually before joining for the final improvisation, inelegantly entitled “Breathless, Sodden Trash”. With dissonant contributions from each player bringing in suggestions of contemporary notated, electronically processed and post-linear improv, the result may be sparse but is in no way sodden.

Even more so than Kurzmann, likely in response to the abrasive twangs and rough plucks that come from Davies’ electric harp strings. Patterson’s live processing to stretches out a blurry, underlying drone among the improvisations. Throughout he alters the sound architecture with draftsman-like efficiency. Not to be outdone Butcher’s reed trills often quiver violently, joining with Davies’ jagged string slices to reach a crescendo of rolling tones. Overall this trio interaction is as assertive as the trio with Kurzmann and Kaplan is passive. But assertive doesn’t mean the collective sequences are smug or strident. For every jagged string stroke there’s an equivalent bonding one; and for every thin woodwind whistle there’s a curved tone that blends as well as accompanies. In reality the concluding sequence wrenches an unexpected lyrical line from the tremolo atonality that is made up of equal parts reed honking, rotating clattering processes and sul ponticello string strokes. Propelling the melodious line in a fashion as understated as it is low-pitched, Butcher confirms his multi-fold imagination.

Decisively as well, each of these stand-out discs substantiates his contributions in varied group settings.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Spatial Principle* 2. Grade A Fancy# 3. Thoracic Pattern^ 4. Breathless, Sodden Trash*#^

Personnel: Live: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones and amplifier) #; Rhodri Davies (electric harp)* and Lee Patterson (amplified devices and processes)^

Track Listing: On: 1. Fires Were Set 2. Met By Moonlight 3. London Melodies

Personnel: On: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); John Edwards (bass) and Gino Robair (energized surfaces and synthesiser)

Track Listing: Shortening: 1. Shortening

Personnel: Shortening: Leonel Kaplan (trumpet); John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones and feedback) and Christof Kurzmann (ppooll)