Point of Departure review of At Oto

John Butcher - Matthew Shipp

For his duo with pianist Matthew Shipp, At Oto, Butcher opens with an incredible tenor saxophone discourse on "Curling/Charred." Initially, it sounds deceptively more linear and/or intervallic than on some of his other recent releases. But as he gets into it, he alternates aggressive, serrated phrases with near silent cooing and buzzing. The soprano solo that follows, "Mud/Hiss," is gorgeously contained and finds Butcher purposefully deploying squeaks and scratches for maximum effect: single notes whorl around until they create doppelgangers, two and three deep, before Butcher brings them back into a single laser-focus, ending with a cascade of laser notes.

Then Shipp is off with his solo, "Fundamental Field." It's a bright and punchy piece, with rolling phrases piling into each other rapidly, each one a fragment of some space-bop song you can't quite name. But what I've always dug so much about Shipp is how he lets every idea breathe, never content simply to bash you with information. After a huge cluster of sound in the middle of the piece, Shipp gets positively effusive with a sequence of pinwheeling chordal motion.

Finally, there is the thirty-minute duo "Generative Grammar," whose dark chamber shapes and modest preparations might initially fool blindfold test candidates into calling it a Schlippenbach/Parker piece. It opens with scalar, modulating, percussive movements, and brief tangles in the lower register. But what's more effective is the long, intense passage of ragged, pounding, insistent notes that scale back into a tense, suspended space. Harmonically fulsome and burring, Shipp refuses to lay off the gas for too long and this pushes Butcher into a simply howling phase (and it's quite rare to hear him do this these days). At times it's exhilarating, and it makes the more spacious passages that follow even more effective. Butcher's liquid and animal sounds that emerge from near silence are extremely engaging, but best of all is the intensely complex weave of high velocity lines that close out the piece.

© Jason Bivins / POD