WIRE reviews of Exta

John Tilbury - Thomas Lehn - John Butcher

Five pieces neatly culled from a 2012 studio session, Exta marks the first trio recordings by three of modern improvised music's greats, though each had played with one another before in other groups.

Often when you pull together three musicians of this kind - already proven masters of the form - the end results can disappoint: fireless backslapping exercises rather than the potential sum of the parts. Much then should be said of the passion, energy and emotion that Butcher, Lehn and Tilbury pour into this music to ensure that Exta succeeds where others fail; and then with some gusto.

The album's title refers to an ancient Roman ritual whereby the vital organs of a sacrificed animal were offered up to the gods. Here. a lengthy day of recording has been filleted to present an album full of powerfully charged music. While all three musicians have considerable experience of various styles of improvisation, the trio opt for music that broods in the quieter, darker corners until it regularly unfurls with a menacing edge, to produce a work that is affectingly moving and unnervingly jarring.

Butcher's sax ranges from soft, whispery purrs to teeth-chatteringly spiteful blasts. Lehn's analogue synth leaps in a moment from burbling tones to fiercely sizzling abstraction, and Tilbury slips from his familiar melodic interludes and fragmented arpeggios to crashing, seismic attacks on the inside of the piano. What sets this album head and shoulders above similar offerings is the understanding between the trio. It's not just the way all three move together as one from subdued lull to explosive rupture, but how each pushes at the others, stopping the music from settling into routine. Throughout the two-part "Pulmo", each of the trio takes the opportunity to wrench the music from one direction to another with a sudden attack just as it settles into a plateau.

More than a routine outing for three old heads, Exta is as vibrant, powerful and testing as anything we have heard from any of them in a while, which in itself makes it an essential addition to Improv's history.

© Richard Pinnell - WIRE 355