It was inevitable that these two musicians should convene for a couple of town meetings last year in Brussels and Barcelona. In doing so, John Butcher and John Edwards have constructed a creative hamlet - a place where one may gather in solitude to mull and then experience the possibilities with these brothers in sound on diametrically opposed instruments. They persuade us to further recognize that an instrument is only a name and not meant to be a label for any one set or subsets of acoustic or electric tones. In the hands of resourceful, experienced musicians, the alto saxophone and acoustic bass transcend what listeners have come to expect from names, labels and "filing under."
The set is brewing with energy and imagination at every turn, the duo deflecting any tendency to languish in the comfort of drawn patterns or breath-catching plateaus. Butcher's soprano exudes amazing control and confidence - unflappable, immovable. Twenty minutes into "Cocktail Bar" from the Brussels set, we hear a digitized Bach cry form an attendee's cellular phone. The saxophonist characteristically shuns expected impulses and flies through a self-written encyclopedia of technique and emphatics.
The four following tracks, or segments, are from a set in Barcelona last summer. There are no detectable sketches in the numbers, only a "get up and go" manner of music making. The duo is on target with each other, whether streaming together long lines of swirling improv or quick-firing chunks of short-duration sound. In "Plate XI," Butcher mimics a guitar walking through overanxious arpeggios, trilling the mouthpiece as a Spaniard would "R's." Each of Edward's bowed probings threaten to crack Butcher's tenor like a brittle walnut, with the saxophonist sidestepping and reevaluating the proceedings. Where there are reflective moments, as in the bowed segment of "Grottes 1," in listening to Optic, I was left with that euphoria that follows a solid workout. The result is part dance, part sparring bout, but altogether a fluid recording that works probably beyond even the expectations of Butcher and Edwards themselves.