The Natural Order
Studio recording from Oakland, California
FRED FRITH: guitar
JOHN BUTCHER: saxophones
Each man has permanently altered the way in which his instrument is heard: Frith with his (at times literal) deconstruction of the electric guitar, and Butcher with his exploration of the physical properties of sound and extended playing techniques.
BLURT MAGAZINE - Fred Mills.
1 That Unforgettable Line - 2:34
2 Delirium Perhaps - 3:46
3 Dance First, Think Later - 3:29
4 Faults of His Feet - 6:29
5 Colour of an Eye Half Seen - 13:30
6 Turning Away in Time - 3:01
7 The Welts, the Squeaks, the Belts, the Shrieks - 3:05
8 Butterflies of Vertigo - 4:37
9 Be Again, Be Again - 5:30
10 Accommodating the Mess - 8:56
11 October 2009
Guerrilla Recordings, Oakland
Engineered and Mastered by Myles Boisen
Cover photo by Andy Moor
Northern Spy NS 060
FRED FRITH: guitar, voice
THERESA WONG: cello, voice
JOHN BUTCHER: saxophones, feedback
Frith & Butcher
1 Laughing Gull Scoots - 8:50
2 Slappy Shore - 21:28
Frith & Wong
3 Katydid Works Her Chromatic Reed - 27:10
Frith, Wong & Butcher
4 Salt-Lick Orange Glade - 19:54
5 Gneiss and Coal - 12:26
29 May 2015
Café Oto, London
Recorded by James Dunn
Mastered by Rupert Clerveaux
Original image by Heike Liss
Otoroku DL 30
LOUDER THAN WAR - Paul Margree
The Natural Order
What was it about last month’s landing by the tiny Philae probe on the lump of rock and ice that is Comet 67p that so enthralled us? The joy that this expedition, a decade in the making, was a definite, if qualified success? The eye-watering precision required to land a tiny metal box on a 2.5 mile wide, rubber-duck shaped lump of rock and ice that is hurtling through space at 11 miles per second? Or the strange optimism that data from this faraway object could shed light on how life started on our own planet millions of years ago?
I was transfixed by the emerging details of Philae’s bumpy landing, peering at my laptop screen at the beautiful and austere pictures it sent back of the comet’s surface. For a brief moment, science fiction became science fact.
John Butcher and Fred Frith’s latest collaboration, The Natural Order, was the perfect sonic backdrop to all this geeking out. The record’s rugged textures and densely layered combination of feedback, extended saxophone and guitar techniques and abstract noise were like an auditory mirror of the cracked and bumpy surfaces of the comet. Released on Northern Spy, a label with immaculate underground credentials and an inspiring forward- looking attitude, The Natural Order documents a get together of these avant-garde veterans back in 2009. The duo had worked together before this – they’ve been playing live dates since 2001 – but this was their first studio meeting.
And it’s a corker, an intense hour-long jam edited into 10 rough-hewn tracks. There are no overdubs, yet thanks to both players’ commitment to opening up the range and possibilities of their instruments, they create works that are much more than the sum of their parts.
Butcher uses amplification, feedback and volume to transform his playing, creating vast sheets of feedback and abrasive noise one minute, almost silent breathy exhalations the next, before surprising us with gorgeously lyric twists of melody. You can hear this on Faults of His Feet, the fourth track on this record. It starts with a set of cutesy, cuckoo-like trills from Butcher, all the more playful for coming just after a particularly saw-toothed mesh of horn and guitar at the tail end of the preceding piece.
Widely acknowledged as a major figure in the second wave of British improvisation, Butcher expanded the beachhead established by players like Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, turning their innovations inside out and, crucially, allowing digital technology to play a part in his ever-evolving musical practice.
The 13 minutes of Colour of an Eye – the centrepiece of this tumultuous recording – sees the duo locking horns with almost furious intent. At first, things seem dominated by Frith, all woolly guitar fuzz and wiry squiggles. But gradually Butcher emerges from the gunk, his brutal yodels calling forth more guitar wails from his axe man partner.
As things approach the five-minute mark, Frith settles into a surly throb, giving Butcher the chance to push out in all directions, a gas expanding to fill a space. His splutters and exhalations are gradually cradled by a descending guitar figure before things switch up a gear and the pair locks together for a series of dissonant sketches, each with a slightly different tonal mixture and balance of sound.
Butcher turned 60 this year, but he’s not resting on his laurels as he’s approached this venerable milestone. His recent work – this record, 2012’s Winter Gardens and his just- released trio with Burkhard Beins and Mark Wastell on Wastell’s own Confront Recordings to name but three highlights – are as good as anything he’s done.
Frith, too, brings majorly heavyweight vibes to the party. Like Butcher, he is another veteran of the swirling experimental firmament of the 1970s, emerging first as part of underground rockers Henry Cow, then as leader or key component of the Art Bears, Skeleton Crew, Massacre and Naked City, as well as collaborating with gurus like Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt and establishing himself as a paradigm shifting guitarist with releases such as 1974’s Guitar Solos.
For improvisational gigs like this, Frith tends to use his rudimentary homemade guitars, laid on a table and played with picks and found objects, as well as more conventional guitars, all of which are hooked up to an array of pedals and samplers. It pushes his technique in different directions, and perhaps more importantly for us listeners, broadens the sound palette available to him. And this is what we get on The Natural Order, a mix of a kind of rusting colossus of echo (Dance First, Think Later), crazed shredding (on Butterflies of Vertigo) and sheer out-there alien dolphin wibbles (Turning Away in Time).
Frith’s guitar wrangling is compelling from the opening salvos of That Unforgettable Line – where he seems to combine a gritty distorted burr of chords with the splintered notes of beaten strings and some incredible planetary drones that sound like some kind of John Cale organ freak-out from White Light, White Heat-era Velvet Underground – all the way through to the weird loops and cutup strums of the record’s final piece, Accommodating the Mess.
Talking about these two improvisational geniuses separately is somewhat deceptive. The thing that’s so compelling about The Natural Order is the way that each players’ contribution merges with the other to form some unearthly composite. On The Welts, The Squeaks, The Belts, The Shrieks, you can tell that there’s a guitar and a saxophone, but their contributions – melodic, textural, dissonant, percussive – are so diffuse and intertwined that it feels like there’s just a single, multi-limbed player doing all this stuff.
We know now that the actual sounds of Comet 67P – thanks to recordings of its electromagnetic radiation – are more like some minimal electroacoustic exploration than the bristling atonality of Frith and Butcher at full pelt.
Yet that does nothing to diminish the wonder and strangeness of this record. This is a deep record. Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars. Just the sound of space. The space of sound.
DUSTED - Bill Meyer
The Natural Order
Improvised music usually benefits from a bit of instability. In the case of The Natural Order, that comes from the congress of two players whose personal histories and aesthetic priorities have some overlap but a lot of difference. Fred Frith, who confines himself to electric guitar on this record, is an inveterate improviser, but he’s also spent a lot of time in structured contexts that are rock, folk, and classically derived. Soprano and tenor saxophonist John Butcher may listen to and learn from all that stuff, but he’s only occasionally worked in composed settings, and even then part of the composition involves figuring out where to situate the improvising.
Butcher often steers himself by figuring out what he doesn’t want to do, and that imperative is at work here. He wanted to play high energy, high volume music without resorting to the clichés that saxophonists resort to in such settings. This is not the first time he has played with a loud electric guitarist — consider his excellent work with the Ex’s Andy Moor. But Frith has a facility with free playing, a knack for executing complicated parts with panache, and a comfort with blasting away that make him a natural to both facilitate Butcher’s intentions and challenge him.
The first cliché disposed of is the notion of duets as duels. While the record’s ten tracks are often intense and heavy, and the players make no effort to paper over their differences of approach, neither do they sound like they are trying to subdue each other. Rather, they seem to propose counter-ideas to each other that move the music forward in consistently stimulating ways. There’s a point on “Colour Of The Eye Half Seen” where the sparking guitar drones and buzzing saxophone multiphonics draw towards divergent pitch destinations with a precision that makes me think of two welders comparing and arguing the merits of different ways to manipulate dangerously hot metal. Each has a preferred way of doing it, but they take note of each other’s practice, and test both it and themselves in the process.
Another cliché deep-sixed is that of overtly emotional high-powered saxophone playing. Butcher’s playing studiously avoids the sort of sounds and dramatic arcs that would cue you to think he’s angry, or impassioned, or out of his head. When he grabs you by the collar, he does so by putting a sound you would not expect in a place you wouldn’t consider that it should go. He does so with an agility that could make another musician look flatfooted, but Frith rises to the opportunity, ripping through ideas with a confidence that is justified by the results. Sometimes he sounds like he is detuning power lines, other times like he is filing down iron fence posts, and every now and then he lets loose an unabashedly rockist wail. But it all works, not just by sounding right in proximity to what Butcher plays, but in giving him a sufficiently ambiguous cue to take the music somewhere else that is fresh.
TINY MIX TAPES - J Rodriguez
The Natural Order
British guitar legend Fred Frith and saxophone innovator John Butcher have announced a new collaborative LP, The Natural Order. Though the duo have been playing together for over a decade, they had never recorded as an ensemble up to this album. Moreover, this is not exactly a new LP, as it was recorded in 2009 and mixed in 2012, although it does document the duo’s first in-studio meeting. The Natural Order was recorded as close to the live setting as possible, eschewing overdubs in what essentially amounts to an hour-long jam, later divided into 10 tracks. The album offers what both of these musicians have come to be known for (a deconstructive guitar technique, multitracked sax harmonic weaving), but still manages to offer some unexpected twists; for instance, when Frith takes a second seat to Butcher’s saxophone lead, or Butcher pushes his style to levels of aggression rarely heard in his solo work.
Frith is best known as one of the leading forces behind RIO titans Henry Cow, later joining the similarly prog-revolting Art Bears and the noise-jazz trio Massacre. He is rightfully held as one of the most original guitar players of all time, melding jazz, rock, noise and avant-garde trappings into a highly personal style. An avid collaborator, aside from regularly playing with his former Henry Cow and Art Bears cohort Chris Cutler, Frith has worked with John Zorn (as a member of Naked City), Brian Eno, The Residents, Bill Laswell, Derek Bailey, Robert Wyatt, etc. John Butcher’s name too stands out among the improvised music greats. A worthy heir of Evan Parker’s explorations, Butcher toys with multitracking and controlled feedback as ways of taking the saxophone to new places. A serial collaborator himself, Butcher has played with Derek Bailey, John Tilbury, Phil Minton, The Ex, Eddie Prévost, Radu Malfatti, Christian Marclay and many others.
So yeah, The Natural Order honors its title by rising as the one album which finally connects everyone to everyone in the experimental music scene. It’s pretty much Paul Erdös in LP form. Seriously, how did it take so long for these two restless experimentalists to find each other and play together, let alone commit their music to an album? And though the resulting work does not precisely break new ground, it is an interesting addition to two long and distinguished careers in experimental music.
LONDON JAZZ NEWS - Geoffrey Winston
Fred Frith with John Butcher and Theresa Wong
Cafe Oto, 29 May 2015; day 1 of 3-day residency.
Review and drawing by Geoff Winston
While it was definitely not ‘unplugged’, it could have be ‘Fred Frith barefoot’. With various pedals arranged in an arc at his unshod feet, the guitarist extraordinaire brought an intimate, workshop ambience to Cafe Oto for his sessions with acclaimed American cellist, Theresa Wong, and award-winning saxophonist, John Butcher.
Combining judicious electronic manipulation of his fretboard work with the tactile application of objects and devices to the instrument, Frith’s two duets and the final trio brought out different aspects of his musical personality from pinched, rubbed and lightly brushed minimalism to trenchant rock-jazz blisters recalling his sorties with Material.
Wong complemented Frith’s ingenious un-prepared guitar techniques in a dialogue that creaked, rattled and bowed. Their drifts into pained vocalese flourished in the quest for intense juxtapositions, and at one point Frith seemed to hover, as in suspended animation, while he let a metal slide gently glide down the fretboard of the guitar, making its own music.
Butcher, in his duet with Frith, added melodic turns with authoritative grace, dodging in and out of jazz phrasing then twisting to explore the percussive potential of the tenor sax body, amplifying key taps and inducing feedback. Vigorous synchronic chases, raw bellows and punches blended with breathy hyphenations.
The trio’s whispered, micro-textured lead-in added a sense of weird movie soundtrack, to be undermined by Frith’s driving background beat, in turn overtaken by a crushing melée of strident vocals cut up with Butchers’s razored soprano sax. Frith and Wong then built up a grimy, drenched drone with glimmers of the sounds of throat singing over which Butcher skated with lyrical fluency. And throughout the performances, Heike Liss, photographer partner of Frith, generated skeins of abstract textures which gradually obscured a series of filmed sequences projected behind the musicians, to add a visual aspect to the staging.
Frith’s imaginative range had been fittingly matched by the invention and resourcefulness of his gifted collaborators.