Stuart Broomer's CODA review of Mouthfull of Ecstasy
at Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in 1997

Veryan Weston - Roger Turner - Phil Minton - John Butcher

The incorporation of textual elements reached its zenith with the Phil Minton Quartet’s performance of “Mouthfull of Ecstasy”, the group’s adaptation of portions of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. There is no other book like it, no text more musically rich in its sheer love of the sounds of language, no work more radical or playfull in its fluid merging and melding of words and tongues.

As such, it provides ideal material and a novel structure for the improvisatory strengths of Minton, pianist Veryan Weston, saxophonist John Butcher, and percussionist Roger Turner. The performance begins at the Wake’s opening passage and ends with the concluding words that terminate without punctuation, circling back to the books beginning. Along the way the group selected key passages, recirculating the recitation among themselves and sometimes combining to read simultaneously from different texts. Minton possesses a unique combination of dramatic and musical skills, a rich baritone for theatrical declamation and a willingness to stretch his voice to the limits for alien sounds and pitches.

The group is composed of master improvisors, each possessed of the dynamic sensitivity demanded by the form. Each possesses a kind of transparency - Weston’s pointillism, Butcher’s gauze, Turners space - through which everything is heard with special clarity. Those talents made the wedding of text and music a continuous success, an occasion for subtle mergings of very free speech and very free music, with lovely duos emerging in the process.

© Stuart Broomer