Philip Clark wrote in these pages that John
Butcher was “only content if the musical
flow throws questions back at him”.
While these recordings address different
issues, each confronts Butcher and his
associates with worthy challenges.
two discs share certain circumstances.
Both are concert recordings made in
London, Crucial Anatomy at Cafe Oto
and Old Paradise Airs at Iklectik, by the
saxophonist and some old companions.
Multi-instrumentalist Steve Beresford
has been playing duets with Butcher since
the 1990s, albeit never very often. Last
Dream Of The Morning on the other hand
solidify a triangle of involvements. Butcher
has played separately with bassist John
Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders
for years, and each of them has worked
extensively with the other, but they first
worked as a threesome in 2016, when
they recorded the CD Last Dream Of The
Morning for Relative Pitch. Since then
they've kept the project going, playing
more concerts with each year and adopting
the album's title as the name for the group.
The trio present Butcher in the sort of
jazz-patterned setting that he strenuously
avoided early in his career. While his
musical singularity is sufficiently secure
that he no longer needs to avoid drum
kits, the familiarities that wreath this
situation raise the question of how to turn
opportunities to do what's been done
into resources for musical advancement?
Familiarity allows the answer to be given in
graduated rather than binary responses,
but it amounts to fundamental points of
process — the players must listen closely
to one another and apply their respective
memories of shared history to some quick
but hard decisions about how to make what
they hear live with new possibility.
Sanders proposes some muted drum beats,
Edwards quickly responds with adroit bow
tapping and then Butcher adds subliminal
key tapping, which turns the sequence into
a three-dimensional sound sculpture that
hangs in the air, and then quickly blows
away. They don’t seem to be striving for
newness so much as fluidity.
The poker faced wit of the other album's
title signals one difference between the
two CDs. While Edwards and Sanders
match Butcher's seriousness of purpose,
humour is one of Beresford’s implements.
of instability. He’s the kind of joker
who, knowing that his partner's sounds
sometimes verge on the avian, will beat
him to the punch by playing some birdsong
samples. Beresford uses shifts between
electronics, amplified objects and the
inside and outside of a piano to introduce
further unpredictability, but he’s not one
to flit prematurely. There are moments of
sublime consonance when his feedback
matches the burred tones of Butcher's
soprano, and more of thrilling contrast
when burly tenor figures plow through
an obstacle course of clanking prepared
piano and cheap-sounding circuitry. The
thrill of Old Paradise Airs derives from the sense that while anything goes, its participants are determined to make whatever they try pay off.
© Bill Meyer / WIRE - March 2020.