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Steve Beresford - John Butcher

Old Paradise Airs

"Last Dream of the Morning"
Mark Sanders - John Edwards - John Butcher

Crucial Anatomy

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.
The 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.
So when 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.