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Steve Beresford's liner notes for optic

John Butcher - John Edwards

"Could life, after all, be counter-intuitive?" asks Lesley Hazleton in her book 'Driving to Detroit'. "I thought of how you handle a spin in the air, pushing the stick forward to keep the nose of the plane down when every instinct in you screams to pull it up."

John Butcher throws even more reeds away unplayed than most saxophonists, because he needs them to do things most players don't. He's a past master at 'keeping the nose down' when you are sure he will do the opposite. Shake hands with John Edwards and you'll think you touched the bark of an oak tree - a physical sign of his devotion to the music. And whilst on the subject of devotion, J&J seem to inspire just that in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of players and thousands of listeners who know more about this music, this tradition, than any cultural manager.

Counter-intuition in music - doing what the other player doesn't expect. Or double-bluffing and doing exactly what they would expect. Following or not following or interrogating your .screaming instinct'. Plus, sometimes the reed or string will do the opposite to what you intended, flipping over into the next realm if pushed too hard or not hard enough.

It reminds me of the experiments Hans Reichel does with the small pieces of beautiful wood he bows in his daxophone - a minuscule movement and the pitch will leap octaves or disappear entirely. And that won't confuse him, because he is, like John and John, an improviser and he expects the unexpected. Even though, as John B points out, "Half a lifetime's been spent shut in tiny rooms trying to control these things for when the time comes to play a concert."

In this music, a sort of alchemy can, like a Joseph Cornell box, turn a plastic jewel from Woolworth's into something infinitely precious. You can end up somewhere you have never been before and find your instrument doing something you never knew it could do. In the group improvisation tradition so assiduously developed in Britain, this sort of stuff can happen to everyone at once. As both player and listener 1 find that pretty exciting. No, scrub that, it's the most exciting thing in music full stop.

© Steve Beresford (2003)