Point of Departure review of Bell Trove Spools

solo

John Butcher

Bell Trove Spools combines two solo saxophone performances, the first on tenor from Houston in April, 2010, and the second on soprano from Brooklyn some 18 months later. Each is a kind of miracle of resonance, with John Butcher exploring both the internal resonances of the saxophones and the resonances of the rooms in which he plays, the result a kind of complex dialogue in which multiple echoes interact, sound becoming palpable. There's an uncanny combination of orderly deliberation and improvisatory freedom here, a kind of virtuoso calm that extends from machine-like blasts of sound to lines of Attic grace.

On the opening "A Place to Start," Butcher presents a series of oscillating multiphonic long sounds, gradually becoming a moving line, the collection of tones growing more complex, changing and expanding timbre and overtone patterns until there's a hive of metal tenor insects. "Padded Shadows" is all staccato plosives echoing though the performance space. When Butcher amplifies the tenor for "Willow Shiver," the electronic modulation is perfectly in keeping with the sonic exploration that has come before. The long and varied "Perfumed Screech" is the highlight of the Houston concert, a perambulating piece that begins in a dialogue between a diatonic lyricism (one that links Butcher to the tenor tradition of Young, Getz and Coltrane) and dense multiphonic clusters. It goes on to include extended passages of throaty, bird-like warbling and a strangely dramatic passage in which Butcher sings through the tenor, the piece never returning, never repeating its melodic beginnings.

The soprano performance has many of the same kinds of reverberation, though the room seems as different as the horn. That reverberation also includes the historical sense, "Third Dart" suggesting the chirping melodic play that once characterized Steve Lacy's solo performances. With the brilliant fluttering, multiplying trills of "Fourth Dart" propelled by seamless circular breathing, the soprano lines seem at once to soar through the room, occupying and echoing every cranny of sonic space. As exotic as Butcher's techniques may be, there's never any sense of division between technique and vision, the two notions melding in a multi-hued continuum.

© Stuart Broomer / POD 41