AV Festival, Newcastle by Colin Davison.
High stakes free improvisation at its most unforgiving.
Sunday Times - Stewart Lee.
Drunk on Dreams
Solid white vinyl LP
JOHN BUTCHER: saxophones and feedback
RHODRI DAVIES: concert and electric harps
At some points, the feedback from Butcher's amplified horns and the resonance of Davies' electric harp influence each other like the gravitational pull of orbiting satellites; at others, purring reeds and gamelan-like string tones evoke the mystery of overhearing a ceremony enacted in an unfamiliar tongue, summoning some unnameable emotions.
DOWNBEAT - Bill Meyer
A1 Radio Guts - 11:50
A2 Lithopanie - 10:20
B Chaos is the Spectre - 22:04
8 June 2015
A l'Improviste - France Musique, Paris
Sleeve art by Denis Tyfus
In performance with quadraphonic playback, pre-recorded by Chris Watson.
pedal, electric and wind harps
saxophones - acoustic & amplified
Spectral voices flash and flare across the cup and ring marked carved rocks of Routing Lynn. In an acoustic modulated by sandstone, moss and birch, saxophone animal squeals and Aeolian strings create a contemporary landscape which merges seamlessly into the ancient.
1 Roughting Lynn - 35:09
14 March 2014
AV Festival, Sage, Gateshead
Studio work merging the harp and saxophone's physical, acoustic and electrical possibilities
tenor or soprano saxophones - plus feedback (1), motors (1, 3, 4), embedded harp speaker (5)
pedal harp, lever harp with embedded speaker and electric harp. Aeolian electric harp (7)
This album transcends the typical textural affair in that it doesn’t just unleash a progression of unrelated, though beautiful textures, but it rather has great compositional development that happens to be adorned with imaginative textures throughout.
KILLED IN CARS
1 Pandon Bank - 9:17
2 Losh - 5:01
3 Gallow Gate - 3:16
4 Scrogg - 1:58
5 Ouse Poppy - 9:17
6 Garth Heads - 5:44
7 Distant Leazes - 9:33
2 May, 2008
Elipse Studio, Newcastle upon Tyne (1-6)
Distant Leazes (7)
Recorded at Crear, Kilberry, Argyll, UK, August 21, 2007 (aeolian electric harp)
and at Bernie’s Boudoir, London, April 8, 2009 (soprano saxophone)
Vortices and Angels
London duets from 3 generations of improvisers
JOHN BUTCHER: tenor / soprano saxophone
DEREK BAILEY: electric guitar - (1/ 2)
RHODRI DAVIES: concert harp - (3 /4)
In Davies' hands, the harp becomes a new instrument full of phenomenal timbral range. Skittering plucked lines are combined with scraped harmonics, bent and stretched notes, and percussive, resonating sheets of metallic reverberation. Butcher responds with spare overtones and harmonics, pinched squeaks, and circular flutters that float like flecked motes in a sunbeam. The improvisations progress with a sense of time that is slowed down, magnifying every tiny nuance and gesture.
CADENCE - Michael Rosenstein
1 Low Vortex 27:46
2 High Vortex 10:04
3 Rhagymadrodd 9:56
4 Pregeth 11:04
5 Diweddglo 3:35
23 March 2000
The Vortex, London (1/2)
Recorded by Martin Davidson
24 May 2000
St Michael and All Angels, London (3/4)
Tecorded by Tim Fletcher
#3 in "The Memory of Live Music"
saxophones (feedback on 4).
lever harp, bows, preparations, and e-bows.
There’s a bittersweetness that’s as pungent as the puckered, perfectly placed reports that English saxophonist John Butcher sometimes punches out of his horns. This improvising duo was audibly on a roll, pushing reeds and strings to sound quite unlike their usual selves, and challenging each other to move beyond logic to the rightness of jointly made and imagined moments.
DUSTED - Bill Meyer
1 Red 'n' Rausch - 3:28
2 Iwaki i - 11:25
3 Iwaki ii - 5:59
4 Miyagi Lights - 2:11
5 Cool Candy - 6:23
6 Initial plan-B - 4:04
7 Final plan-B - 11:22
Recorded at Hara (Tokyo), Iwaki (Fukushima), Miyagi (Sendai) Museums;
Jazz Spot CANDY (Chiba) and plan-B (Tokyo) in 2004.
All recordings by Hisashi Terauchi.
WEIGHT of WAX - WoW DL06.
At Cave 12
#4 in "The Memory of Live Music"
saxophones (with feedback on iii)
1 cave douze, part i - 14:31
2 cave douze, part ii - 5:41
3 cave douze, part iii - 15:06
4 cave douze, part iv - 3:58
21 October 2018
Cave 12, Geneva, Switzerland
Recorded by Benjamin "Benouz” Ephise.
WEIGHT of WAX - WoW DL07.
NORMAN’S RECORDS - Ant
Drunk on Dreams
Always a great pleasure to have a new record on Copenhagen based label Cejero. An imprint with a diverse and consistently adventurous roster from The Sun God (Jamal Moss), Aaron Dilloway, Robert Turman, Eric Frye, Senyawa etc. Now a fine collaboration from John Butcher & Rhodri Davies. The record comes beautifully presented in an edition of 300 copies, pressed on white vinyl and housed in artwork by Ultra Eczema bossman Dennis Tyfus.
Those familiar with the output of John Butcher will know his weapon of choice is the saxophone and he’s been active in the world of avant jazz and beyond for several decades. Welshman Rhodri Davies utilizes the harp and like John Butcher has a wholly unconventional approach to his instrument. He is to the harp what Derek Bailey was to the guitar. They recorded a session together in Paris for A l’Improviste – France Musique’ on Radio France, 8th June 2015. A session where each player elicits such peculiar and otherworldly sounds from their respective tools that often they are indistinguishable as saxophone and harp - rather together it becomes this strange ecosystem of alien sound. Although at times we can clearly identify the instrument responsible for the sound, they’re played in such seemingly bizarre ways it’s practically unfathomable how they’re getting such sounds from these tried and tested traditional instruments. I suppose you could call it jazz - somewhere between the intergalactic jazz of Sun Ra and the wild free jazz of Peter Brötzmann, but then the harp just takes it to another zone entirely.
A heavyweight collaboration with peaks and troughs of light and dark, quiet and solitude and more intense moments that make for quite the ride. The overall vibe I get is that I’m in some dream world, wandering inside an environment inhabited by magnificent iridescent butterflies and insects I’ve never seen before, creatures not of this earth. The next moment I could be intoxicated inside some scene from a William Burroughs novel. Yeah, this is waaaaay far out and I'm diggin' it.
DUSTED - Bill Meyer
There’s a bittersweetness about Japanese Duets that’s as pungent as the puckered, perfectly placed reports that English saxophonist John Butcher sometimes punches out of his horns. This is the third in an ongoing series of download-only releases that Butcher, idled by COVID-19, has culled from his archive, The Memory of Live Music, and the unbearable lightness of its format, only accentuates the sense of lost opportunities and experiences. One of the things that a touring musician gains in exchange for their embrace of uncertainty is the chance to go to some unlikely place and undergo something extraordinary.
The four-page PDF that comes with this download reproduces photos from Butcher and Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies’ 2004 tour of Japan, which took in swanky museums and shoebox-sized jazz cafes; each image looks like a moment worth living. But if all you can do is hear the evidence, that’s not exactly settling. This improvising duo was audibly on a roll, pushing reeds and strings to sound quite unlike their usual selves, and challenging each other to move beyond logic to the rightness of jointly made and imagined moments. Thanks, guys, for sharing the memories.
THE QUIETUS - Joseph Burnett
Routing Lynn is a document of a remarkable collaboration between Butcher and Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies, with whom he also performs as part of the Common Objects collective. In January 2014, the duo decamped to the wilds of Northumberland (and Newcastle), and the music they recorded there was captured by legendary sound artist (and ex-Cabaret Voltaire member) Chris Watson. The results were then performed live at Sage Gateshead, with Watson blending all these strands into the single slab that is Routing Lynn. The process sounds convoluted, but in the assured hands of Watson the results are never less than coherent, with both performers shining over the course of a single 35-minute stretch.
The music is inspired by the landscapes, but not intrinsically of it: Davies has a fascination with cup and ring marked stones (something which he has also explored with Butcher on the latest Common Objects album), but Routing Lynn never falls into the trap of airy-fairy mysticism, instead allowing Butcher and Davies, two of Britain's most intrepid improvisers, another setting in which to battle with their instruments and each other.
Rhodri Davies is often associated with the reductionist school of fierce, free-jazz inspired improv, and his playing involves frequent Ebow drones, strings banged rather than plucked (though not always) and moments where his instrument is distorted to the point of being barely recognisable. All techniques fans of his Wound Response album from 2012 will instantly recognise. Butcher works with the very foundational tools of his craft: air and saliva, with notes shortened or extended, often into registers one wouldn't think possible. The track's progression is non-linear, with lengthy drones blending into extended dual improvisations overflowing with distortion and noise. All around the pair flow the natural sounds captured by Chris Watson: birdsong, gales of wind, etc, creating a wide, outdoor canvas that at the same time is, in these hands, strangely hermetic.
POINT OF DEPARTURE - Stuart Broomer
Both Rhodri Davies and John Butcher have special musical visions. Davies has explored the harp – acoustic and electric, orthodox and vernacular – in free improvisation, bringing fresh sonic
materials to the music. Butcher has explored the possibilities of his saxophones, through new techniques and electronics as well as testing their resonant possibilities in a host of unusual surroundings – from mines to monuments to an enormous gas cylinder. Those wide-ranging interests combine here, as outside music takes in the outdoors.
Routing Lynn derives its inspiration from “cup and ring” markings, carved stone patterns from the Neolithic period, around 10,000 to 2,000 BC. These markings consist of a hollowed-out “cup” and a series of concentric circles, and they appear around the coasts of England and Western Europe, including France, Portugal, Spain and Sicily. Davies’ interest in the markings includes their continuing mystery, since no definitive explanation of their meaning has been established. That sense of mystery clearly extends to his use of the markings in his music and the music itself.
While Cup and Ring used a graphic score that included the symbols, Routing Lynn is built up from layers of recordings in different places at different times. It takes its name from an archaeological site in Northumberland, “Roughting Linn,” from “linn,” a pool, and “roughting,” a bellowing noise. It’s a waterfall and a rock with extensive cup and ring markings, the largest such rock in Northern England. A certain sense of marking and the problem of interpretation might be enacted in the form of Routing Lynnitself. Sound artist Chris Watson recorded the Davies/ Butcher duo in a museum and at Roughting Linn, then the Roughting Linn site itself, eventually combining these tapes as a quadrophonic component for a live concert at Sage, Gateshead, the performance that is heard here.
As with any work using such dense materials, it poses issues of space and interaction, with both Davies and Butcher concentrating their input, leaving space for the recorded materials – water, birds, insects, themselves – and interacting with them. There is multiple play with notions of distance and resonance, from the echoes of the original sites to the focus on timbre in the “live” recording as edited and mixed by Butcher.
In place of the “not knowing” of archaeology the performance suggests a certain set of animistic possibilities, the notion that sites possess memories and that the tissue of a living, vibrating universe picks up and transfers data, that somehow other sets of meanings and resonances are passed around, preserved and extended in the realization of the performance. It isn’t just the time and air of Chris Watson’s recordings that are meeting in this performance, but the continuum of the water, the rock and its Neolithic markings.
Routing Lynn suggests compound time and space, from the time of the “Roughting Linn” markings to those of the multiple recordings, as if these layers of time might connect the ultimate work more closely to Roughting Linn. In the hypothetical placelessness (utopia) of listening to a recording, we are also in its plural space. This is compelling music, work filled with fresh echoes, timbres, distances and proximities.
Tender threads mingle in conspiracy. . . Is there any guess work here? It’s almost as though the music of Carliol was formed by some sort of morphic resonance — the placid tones and wavering frequencies following furrows to chaotic attractors, as each disparate sounding is following some entirely natural but unexpected path. These are obviously players with delicate but ferric control. It’s readily apparent, even if you’re not familiar with John Butcher’s extended sax explorations or Rhodri Davies’ harp and ebows. Since their previous recorded duo, Vortices and Angels (on Emanem), they have clearly progressed to something else, something far beyond that recording‘s relatively standard (but quite nice) celestial improv.
Davies and Butcher have developed such oblique yet entreatingly apt constructions on Carliol, that it’s not particularly useful to think of their previous work. I much prefer to the let the naked sibilant coils of saxophone and electric harp to coalesce and reach equilibrium without prior reference. But hell, is that even possible? Is it even desirable to listen without prior reference? References colored this release for me initially. At first, I found it not necessarily bland, but easily acquired, rationalized, squared away in some lineage I find less and less important. But I realized that if initially you might gather nothing but sheen and history, with time it lets you in, reveals more than was first apparent. I need that from music. This music.
I don’t care about the oddity of some of these individual sounds anymore; the extended technique, the scraping resonances of the controlled mistake are in themselves not interesting. What I want is connection to what is created, however obscure. Carliol offers you something. Even if it’s just a pebble you finally notice in your shoe after walking around on it all day. The music expires then expands. Nothing lasts forever here. But it’s not the sound of impatience when, on “ouse poppy,” Davies’ tones waver, split, and are driven into different paths by Butcher’s taps on the keys of his sax. It’s the sound of exploring impermanence and the precious, like when one traces the lines, marks, valleys of a loved one’s face, or chases the creases in the cringe of a joint. On “Garth Heads,” Butcher’s notes ascend over lingering ebowed tones from Davies and you feel something give, an understanding reached, enough of this struggle to coexist, let’s just dance for a while. There’s no rush.
Sure you could mention the beauty of so many of these elements, but I’m not sure if that’s what this is all about. Here. Sitting. Listening to the punctuating mechanisms (Butcher’s “motors”?) light up the space on “Scrog;” metallic teeth chattering like small, synthetic animals in the corner of your room, under that heap of clothes — don’t move it, son, they’ll bite.
It’s balance in Carliol that is key; this is not a duel. One can see that from the mixture of Welsh and English of their song titles, as well. But if anything, you are the third member, finding your own place within it. Often, that quality seems to be missing in recorded music– that place for the listener. The listener who often, like some consollation prom date, gets lost in being talked at, yelled over and ignored. No, Cariol is not like that. It seems to allow, urge… and conspire. It’s a refreshing to take part in once and a while.
JAZZ REVIEW - Barry Witherden
Vortices & Angels
On Vortices And Angels Butcher duets with Bailey on the first two tracks, recorded at North London's Vortex club, and with Davies on the other three tracks, also recorded live, but this time at a church in West London.
In recent years we've heard Bailey in some unexpected contexts on albums like The Last Wave, Mirakle and Guitar, Drums 'n' Bass, so that there is something almost comforting about his continued involvement with this kind of session, in what can now qualify, I guess, as mainstream improv.
For the later generations of free music practitioners, playing with Bailey must be analogous to an astronomer finding a video of the Big Bang: logic suggests there must have been something there before, but there's no concrete evidence of what it was, the appearance of the Joseph Holbrooke 1965 'single' notwithstanding. Bailey's style has no detritus carried over from the other side. He seems to have sprung full-arm'd from his own head.
That doesn't faze Butcher, though. His encounters with Bailey remind me of Roger Corman's The Raven - which, of course, bore no relation to the Poe poem. In the climactic scene Karloff and Price, playing rival wizards, engage in a spell-casting duel.
With their shape-shifting sounds, their flashing, sly, eccentric gestures, Butcher or Bailey might at any moment transform the other (or himself, for that matter) into something scary, wondrous or just plain bizarre.
The Davies/Butcher tracks, as befits their setting perhaps, are less mischievously Mephistopholean and percussive. Etiolated sounds circle and swoop in the stratosphere, or dart down to chatter in tongues. Davies sometimes resorts to a bowed bell, but mostly he sticks to conventional harp, albeit with some unconventional accessories. The duo's dexterity and inventiveness make it difficult to believe that there are only two players. They frequently fool the ear into hearing the shades of other instruments, and there is always, rather paradoxically given that this is 'free music', a strong sense of a fitting resolution when the pieces conclude.
E-PULSE - Tony Mostrom
Vortices & Angels
Suddenly we're inside a church, hearing Butcher skittering out a difficult thread of fluttering noises so high-pitched that they're almost not there, while out of the other speaker come isolated sounds of springy, loosened-strings from what I thought was Derek Bailey's big acoustic guitar but noooooo!
It's the unprecedented harpist Rhodri Davies pulling off strange, isolated notes from his instrument. Sploingg.... buzzzzz.... Butcher then joins him in the lower registers, blowing moody, fluttery figures with an almost granulated rough edge.
Freely improvised duo playing rarely gets as tasty as this. Niiiiiice.
JAZZ TIMES - Bill Shoemaker
Vortices & Angels
As producer Martin Davidson points out in his sleeve notes to "Vortices and Angels", guitarist Derek Bailey (born 1930), saxophonist John Butcher (born 1954) Butcher (1954) and harpist Rhodri Davies (1971) represent three generations of improvisers on the London scene. Accordingly, Butcher’s duets with Bailey and Davies on the Emanem disc trace an arc from the assertively nonidiomatic approach Bailey developed in the ‘60s, to the chamber-music-informed filigrees currently favored by Davies and contemporaries such as cellist Mark Wastell.
Despite rapid, jarring shifts of timbres and dynamics, there is an incessant rhythmic prodding between Butcher's tenor and Bailey’s amplified guitar throughout the nearly half-hour “Low Vortex” that exemplifies theircommon ground as improvisers, a dichotomous mix of responsiveness and counterintuition.
Butcher and Davies interact in a more conscientiously complementary manner, particularly when Butcher's tenor multiphonics and Davies’ textures hover about each other to create an otherworldly soundscape on “Rhagymadrodd,” an approach rooted in their work together in pianist Chris Burn’s Ensemble.
The idea of putting these contrasting sessions together was inspired, as they simultaneously give the listener a glimpse of the diversity within the London scene and its intricate genealogies.
CADENCE - Michael Rosenstein
Vortices & Angels
In listening to improvised music at the start of the 21st century, it has become an easy trap to neatly categorize things by finding precedents. Terms like post-bop, post-Ayler, and post-Parker (Charlie or Evan) are bandied about as convenient means to describe a lineage or provide a pedigree. But there are musicians like John Butcher who come along and confound all attempts at this type of labeling.
Butcher is as likely to participate in collective, spontaneous improvisation as he is in contexts involving composition (whether as part of the long-standing Chris Burn Ensemble or the London Improvisers Orchestra). His partners include many with whom he has had long-term relationships like Burn, John Russell, or Phil Durrant and spontaneous meetings (like a jaw-dropping performance with Joe Morris in Boston in the winter of 2000.)
Luckily, Butcher is fairly prolific in his recordings, offering an opportunity to hear him in an almost dizzying array of contexts. An area he seems to particularly thrive in is the intimacy of both solo and duet settings. On the recent CD Fixations (14), the Emanem label documented a series of live solos Butcher performed between 1997 and 2000. The release at hand provides an intriguing companion to that one. as it captures the reed player in two live duets; one with guitarist Derek Bailey and the other with harpist Rhodri Davies.
There is always a certain directness to improvisations when Derek Bailey is involved. The guitarist has honed a sound and strategy to improvisation that is at once tightly focused and instantly recognizable while remaining remarkably open to a broad variety of contexts for collective exploration. The two pieces here comprise the second set of a performance Butcher and Bailey performed at the Vortex, a club in north London. Bailey's angular, clipped freedom elicits a fluid, rapid-fire response from the reed player.
Butcher's playing is full of rough-scrubbed textures and sharp-edged attack used to spray cascading lines punctuated with carefully wrought spaces and quiet, fluttering ebbs. There is plenty of careful listening going on as the two charge headlong into these extended improvisations that build to a heated intensity.
The pieces with harpist Rhodri Davies have the same intensity and abstraction, but instead of heated, conversational linearity, the improvisations seem to hover in the atmosphere, exciting the air like charged particles. Recorded in a church in west London, the acoustics of the space seem to act almost as a third player here. In Davies' hands, the harp becomes a new instrument full of phenomenal timbral range. Skittering plucked lines are combined with scraped harmonics, bent and stretched notes, and percussive, resonating sheets of metallic reverberation. Butcher responds with spare overtones and harmonics, pinched squeaks, and circular flutters that float like flecked motes in a sunbeam. The improvisations progress with a sense of time that is slowed down, magnifying every tiny nuance and gesture.
This duet release offers two compelling views of Butcher's playing. Utilizing diverse strategies for spontaneous improvisations, both deliver equally engaging results.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD - Stuart Broomer
English saxophonist John Butcher may be among the world's most influential musicians, operating at the cutting-edge of improvisatory practice since the '80s. While his explorations of multiphonics, continuous breathing and electronics have extended the range of sonic and expressive possibilities for free-improvising saxophonists, he's also served as a model for a host of other instrumentalists. Whenever an acoustic musician starts to sound like a bank of oscillators, a tropical forest, a brook or an insect factory, Butcher's influence is likely nearby.
Scrutables, recorded in 2000, is a work of classic British free improvisation, if "classic" can be applied to the kind of sonic mayhem practiced regularly by Butcher, the late guitarist Derek Bailey and percussionist Gino Robair, whose instrument here is described as "energized surfaces". The interactive mechanics of every genuine improvisation are unique, an incalculable intersection of habit, synapse, randomness, extrasensory perception and listening that ranges from microscopically detailed to non- existent. At any moment it might sound as if each musician is creating his own continuum or as if each is responding to the infinite nuances of the others. Either way, the lines and sounds continuously interact in a scattershot effect that has a line moving from guitar to drum to saxophone and back again.
One may hear more here by surrendering the idea of instrumental identity, accepting the music as one might the words assigned to the segments - as previously non-existent ("almosthenics"), rare ("frangible"), or a happy collision ("cosmetic halo" or "teasing needles").
JAZZ WORD - Ken Waxman
A hitherto unreleased session now made more audible through modern technology, this CD captures the unmistakable spiky playing of the late British guitarist Derek Bailey in cohesive improvisations alongside London saxophonist John Butcher, with whom he often played at the time, and visiting American percussionist Gino Robair. More crucially it’s a valuable addition to the guitarist’s burgeoning discography. By this point the playing of Bailey (1930-2005) was very much sui generis. Having along with others, mid-wifed the growth of self-defined improvised music in the United Kingdom, his tart and acerbic method of string scraping and finger-picking had retained constant whether playing with older associates or newer musicians world-wide.
As open to multiple pairings and new partners as Bailey, Butcher had by this time (2000), perfected soprano and tenor saxophone multiphonics making his tones as distinctive as the guitarist’s. Rather than being odd man out, Bay area percussionist Robair, whose rhythmic versatility is expressed by labelling his percussion instruments energized surfaces, had already set up a playing relationship with Butcher. But this is his only recorded meeting with Bailey.
Bailey’s insistence on what could be termed total improvisation notwithstanding, the eight tracks don’t suffer from hesitancy on anyone’s part, with the juddering mass often depending as much of the percussionist’s wrenching textures, cymbal scrapes and patterns as the saxophonist’s diaphragm vibrato, tongue stops and circular breathed split tones. No surprise. Robair had already worked with quirky guitarists like Myles Boisen and mercurial saxophonists like Anthony Braxton; Butcher’s associates had included guitarist John Russell and drummer John Stevens; while Bailey had played with nearly every major percussionist and reedist in Free Music including Evan Parker, Peter Boltzmann, Han Bennink and Tony Oxley.
“Frangible” the lengthiest track is probably almost the most characteristic. Built up with circling single notes from Bailey, high-pitched reed squeaks and extensive percussion friction, stressed textures are invested with more urgency as Butcher’s hollowed respiration swells to corkscrewed tongue flutters and chirps alongside Bailey’s rugged slurred fingering and Robair’s roll, pops and paradiddles. Just when the sonic tension seems impenetrable, vibrated reed obbligatos and descending string flanges cut through the impasse and are soon joined by percussive impulses segmented among paper ripping, cymbal smacking and drum surface crackling. Approximations of rhythm guitar strokes, without a standard pulse, as well as cymbal pops and on “Plugh” an understated, reed-blowing ostinato, keep many of sounds on the other tracks together, even approximating harmony at some points.
Still, the true value of this session is to expose the first-class music produced by three improvisers at the top of their respective games. It’s a valuable addition to each man’s catalogue.