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Cavern with Nightlife - WIRE review

John Butcher | Toshimaru Nakamura

It's now long past the point when saxophonist John Butcher and his solo approach can usefully be compared to Evan Parker's. The only valid comparison at the moment is that both have recently founded their own CD labels. Cavern with Nightlife is the inaugural release on Weight of Wax. It documents two moments on an autumn 2002 tour of Japan. "Practical Luxury" was recorded at the new SuperDeluxe arts centre and club in Roppongi. It's the only piece on the record to feature Toshimaru Nakamura and his no-input mixing board, which creates quiet almost evanescent environments for Butcher's tenor. We hear him play acoustically and with elements of amplification and feedback.

The title makes perfect sense. There's an impressive coherence of form and function, and as the improvisation develops, a feeling of what can only be described as sensual austerity. Emphatically not the reverse of that. Every sound is experienced with calligraphic clarity, it's beauty functional. Even so, the piece is almost an anticlimax after the four solo cuts recorded 60 metres underground at the Oya Stone Museum in Utsonimiya City, a cold lava cavern which chilled Butcher's saxophone but gave it an acoustic atmosphere far more profound than Nakamura's.

"Mustard Bath" has to be one of the most remarkable saxophone pieces ever recorded. It begins with a trill that suggests Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme, and then opens out into an exploration of high register soprano tones that might be birds or bats. "Ejecta" begins with stern, tongued sounds before moving into territory that for a moment (misleadingly) suggests Peter Broetzmann. These are the highpoints of a CD that wisely offers no more than an absorbable 45 minutes of superfine music.
If Weight of Wax gives Butcher a reliable self-determined outlet for his work, Cavern with Nightlife is the perfect introduction. If you weren't around for his 1991 debut, 13 Friendly Numbers, this is an ideal place to get on board.

© Brian Morton - WIRE