Gino Robair / John Butcher / Matthew Sperry

March 8, 2001

12 Milagritos
Spool Line SPL 109

British sonic explorer John Butcher is one woodwind player who has worked assiduously on discovering every last sound he can pull out of the innards of his horns, most notably when he produces a solo session.

Mouthpiece mavens may drool when given something to like that to absorb, but others may find his interactions with other players easier to swallow. You won’t think his skilled saxophone spewing all wet if you can hear it amalgamating with the deft improvising of other musicians.

This CD is particularly noteworthy since Yanks make up the other two thirds of this trio. Oakland, Calif.-based Gino Robair has internalized the British multi vibrational concept of folks like AMM’s Eddie Prevost, and uses a melange of percussion to comment on the proceedings, rather than functioning as a timekeeper or a rhythm machine. Matthew Sperry of Seattle, Wash. has worked singly and together with Butcher and Robair since the late 1990s, and brings a thorough understanding of the bass as a solo as well as an accompanying instrument to the session.

Preeminently group music, 12 MILAGRITOS gives the saxophonist the proper canvas on which to express his reed brush strokes. Not that he’s the only artist here. Like sculptor’s associates who simultaneously work on different parts of a statute to produce the three-dimensional representation, each man contributes to the concoction, negating the hierarchical concept of soloist with rhythm section. Often the result is one of those improvisations where the precise sound source for many notes is difficult to determine. Most of the 12 pieces unroll at a frantic speed, yet with every gesture microscopically clear.

Playing either tenor or soprano saxophone, Butcher constructs little dramas out of slap tonguing, false fingering and foghorn-like reverberations. Frequently his tone could be all encompassing enough to seemingly fill an entire wind tunnel by itself; other times it may dissolve into random reed buzzes, or even what sounds like a factory gate whistle or extended passages on comb-and-tissue-paper. This way he’s frequently not only able to play the note, but suggest its undertones and overtones as well.

Ignoring straight time and much of his kit, Robair concentrates on scraping his cymbals with a bow, producing triangle-like vibrations, striking wood blocks, and knocking out subterranean percussion rumbles. Sticking in most cases to the lower register of his instrument and the arco mode, Sperry creates counterpoint to the others. At times his attack is so forceful that you envision the bass bridge shaking with his exertion.

Although sometimes Sperry seems to be banging his fist to or palm to create percussive tones from the bass, he didn’t have to knock on wood for luck on this date. With three experienced improvisers on tap, the entire project not only commands attention, but also hangs together as if the group performs every day as an ensemble.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ave 2. Nervio 3. Labio 4. Cerebro 5. Bizaro 6. Codo 7. Garganta 8. Mano 9. Brazo 10. Pelo 11. Dedo 12. Pie

Personnel: John Butcher (soprano and tenor saxophones); Matthew Sperry (bass and preparations); Gino Robair (percussion, bows and motors, ebow snare, faux dax)