PARIS TRANSATLANTIC REVIEW of Scrutables

Derek Bailey / John Butcher / Gino Robair

It's so fantastic to have new Bailey to listen to, not least this fascinating document from 2000 where the sorely missed guitarist met up with saxophonist Butcher and percussionist Robair (here on "energized surfaces") in London. From a period of fascinating transition in Butcher's own instrumental language, the contrast between the three voices is a rich one. Robair is often heard working low toms like timpani, manipulating the drumheads to create crisp pitch alterations. But he's also given to generating a fascinating low analog rumble as Butcher and Bailey string out modes of sustain on several of the pieces here. When Robair is relatively assertive with this sound, the music becomes a floating electronic atmosphere on some alien planet, occasionally (as on "3") with all three players simultaneously creating wow-wow effects like a generator, an oscillator, a forge.

I'm often most compelled by the more contrapuntal passages here, as with the chirping, choppy, squeaking "2," which is amazingly fast, fluid, and conversational, like sonic floriculture. They occasionally veer off into different areas, as with the industrial skronk, quaver and grind on "5" or the closing "8," which is like Arnold Dreyblatt's excited strings plus gongs and cymbals. But the finest tracks by far are those that synthesize all the approaches heard separately elsewhere on the record. The lengthy "6" finds Butcher exploring some of his most histrionic, vocalic effects as Robair goes for the tiniest, high-end bowed styro effects as Bailey chords away no-wave style. They patiently allow the contrast to develop until the piece sounds as if it simply springs apart from internal tension, as Butcher skirls dervish-like on soprano before a spacious, ominous patter begins and the music moves into the sub-layer, proceeding via almost unconscious hints. "7" picks up on from here, but Butcher now combines his burrs and trills with a mighty yawping, and Robair's thudding, occasional punctuations break things down quite interestingly (he's just so deft in changing it up to generate a slur or groan too, aside from conventional percussive gestures)

Overall, this is a killer disc that reminds you of how bracing and inventive top level improvisation can be, with so much information and so many ideas packed into succinct pieces.

© Jason Bivins - PARIS TRANSATLANTIC (Winter 2011)