The Open Secret: John Butcher/Gino Robair/Dieb 13

Geography for Plays
Rastascan BRD069

Blume/De Joode/Butcher

Low Yellow

Jazz Werkstatt JW 184

Opposite sides of the Free Music coin, what these international improvising trios have in common is the talents of British reedist John Butcher. Low Yellow could be described as a classic Free Music session featuring the London-based Butcher on tenor saxophone with Dortmund-based percussionist Martin Blume and Amsterdam bassist Wilbert de Joode. Geography for Plays on the other hand centres on electronic impulses, with Butcher playing tenor and soprano saxophones plus feedback, Vienna’s dieb13 employing turntables and computer, while Californian Gino Robair is engaged with energized surfaces, prepared piano and the Blippoo Box, an analogue synthesizer with twin digital shift registers.

Sticking to acoustic interface, Low Yellow’s four tracks depend on the shale-tough pulse of De Joode that anchors the program, allowing the saxophonist and drummer to roam over the sound field. Tellingly though, not unlike the more programmed interface on the other CD, r the sonic output of the music is such that despite the distinctive properties of each player, it’s often difficult to ascribe individual textures to a particular instrument. In most cases though, the subtle drum plops and rebounds, gentle reed suckling and sophisticated string decoration sourced from either side of the double bass’s bridge, create unhurried narratives which preserve individualism by allowing unprecedented and unexpected augmented contrapuntal motifs to enter the tracks’ expositions. While the unforced improvisations also take on a rootsy Blues feel via de Joode’s scratches that seem to be pulling the finish off the bass strings and equivalent tonal reed vibration from Butcher on the concluding “Acids”, the CD’s defining track is the penultimate “Grottoes”, an extended challenge involving many pitches and textures. Butcher’s circular breathed multiphonics are perfectly balanced by de Joode’s rolling spiccato lines and Blume’s clip-clop drum beats, until the track eventually evolves before the conclusion into two recitals: the bassist’s solo showcase of emphasized affiliated notes and rhythmic patterns that then ease into accompanying Butcher’s final reed drama of circularly breathed snorts, upwards staccato tones and connective slurs.

The saxophonist gets to express himself as freely on A Geography for Plays, although these calculated reed tones aren’t really isolated until mid-way through the program, as his extended techniques blends with the electronically sourced oscillations from the other players. Until that point fascination results from aurally picking out the sequence-shifting landmarks in a program mostly concerned with rotating turntable buzzing, patched verbal and musical samples, electronic-affiliated crackles, buzzes, plops and zigzagging signal processing. Track 3, “Olecassandrum”, finally follows string-like strumming and cymbal-like slaps with a feedback loop that includes live processed circular breathing and split-tone whistles. While the session finally fades away with the concluding “Pearlagraph, The Pearlagraph” – who comes up with these titles? – that blends marimba-like chiming, blurry oscillations, piercing tweets and reed gurgles into a flowing narrative, earlier instances of timbral jiu-jitsu from the saxophonist is expressed with an assortments of feints and variations, including harsh swirling reed feedback that fits in with the crackle of scratched vinyl on “Last Morning of the Dream”; or a durable unyielding single reed tone that continues throughout “Spoon Wink” only to accelerate above altissimo when bell-like resonations and deep thumps are also heard. And then there’s the single peep that interrupts the reflective machine-made burbling on “Giant Skull Gasp.”

As on the other CD, this trio’s defining moment occurs long before the ending, on “Tinflappant”, when each participant gets to express his particular strategy before the piece climaxes with pure New Thing-like expansion of elevated multiphonic variations and echoing rolled surfaces. Before that the equivalent of hi-hat slaps, drum rolls and ticking clatter; buzzing and rubbing plus Jew’s harp-like twangs from computer samples and kazoo-like ragged reed bites, tongue slapping and honking glossolalia have isolated and defined each player’s contribution.

In terms of music’s history, it’s ironic in 2018 to report that the out-and-out Free Jazz session here may actually be more melodic and approachable than the other. Both discs however confirm how much can be done instrumentally by a trio of committed improvisers. Unexpected astonishment and appreciation can come from careful listening to either.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Yellow: 1. Flowers 2. Fogs 3. Grottoes 4. Acids

Personnel: Yellow: John Butcher (tenor saxophones); Wilbert De Joode (bass) and Martin Blume (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Geography: 1. The Lobbard Change Hisstops 2. Dart on Discourse 3. Olecassandrum 4. Tinflappant 5. Spoon Wink 6. Last Morning of the Dream 7. Giant Skull Gasp 8, Pearlagraph, The Pearlagraph

Personnel: Geography: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones and feedback); dieb13 (turntables and computer) and Gino Robair (energized surfaces, prepared piano and Blippoo Box)