David Grubbs' liner notes for Strokes

John Butcher & the Sten Sandell trio


No one steals the show, and yet everyone is so fucking good.

There's a haunting of electronics, and then we're off to the races. The epicycle races. Duos and trios orbit and spin. They spin while tracing the circumferences of larger, better burnished duo - and trio - circles. Perpetual arrivals and departures. Spinning orbitals: the ad hoc superimpositions of circles within, along, upon circles. It's the peak hour of a bus station's piqued week.

Butcher is the ringer, the guest ghost interloper.

The equation Sten Sandell Trio + One = collaging a working trio (demonstrable frequent-flyer telepathy) with the fourth wheel that makes the beast roll so beautifully. Sandell's and Butcher's electronics are the wild cards that deal a sextet.

A haunting of. Sextext.

Can we agree that originators are overrated? That the first nose flute prodigy, the first nose flute master to hew to just intonation, the first nose flute player to appear on a digital 78 or analog DVD has nothing on the nightly hard individual evolving of John Butcher or Sten Sandell? Or the sound of Paal Nilssen-Love's kit as he bursts in upon, rains sticks upon Butcher plus Electrosandell?

(Johan Berthling is his own epicycle. Hear him cycle like mad.)

Originators are comically overrated because there's a gig tonight. The four-masted, four-mastered gig foremost. Not the gig in the sense of the daily bread so much as the gig you're about to start in four minutes or for which time has dipped below the horizon, self-extinguished. Several years ago I caught a gig by the Sten Sandell Trio at Stockholm's Glenn Miller Café. It was righteously energizing. (For years I thought that the word "enervating" meant its opposite. At the time I would have said that the gig was righteously enervating. Youth!)

I was the opposite of enervated. Not only me.

It was cold, it was the city center, night fell during lunch. It was a jazz club, it was a weeknight. It was a gig. It was stripped down, meaning it was characterized by rigor comma furious focus. Keyboard cascade and the tens of thousands of sounds that sleep in a snare. Arcoberthling. A weeknight gig, a hometown gig, and what a throwdown. None of the hybrid uneasy spaces of the present recording, no Electrobutcher. What a gig - glory - and what's to say? Cascades! The piano shook. It sang like a choir. I reveled to first hear Paal. I swiveled to hear Johan play like he wasn't in Tape. I cursed the fact that excellent pianos don't travel in gig bags.

Around 1995 Stockholm and Chicago came to be connected by a tunnel and bullet train. Sten Sandell disembarked at the Empty Bottle with Gush and it was a high point in that opposite of enervating period. Hearing him play with John Butcher puts me in mind of this first encounter: Sandell-Strid-Gustafsson.

Butcher is mercurial and that's never the point.

You'd be hard pressed to insist upon a - by which I mean the - point. The tens of thousands of sounds that sleep in a saxophone. The bow of a bass.

Hammerpedalstring. Gigs purged of ghosts.

Ghosts purged of

© David Grubbs, Brooklyn, Febuary 2007.