Recorded in concert at London's Iklectik in July 2017, Fictional Souvenirs brings together Pat Thomas on Moog theremini and ipad electronics, John Butcher on saxophones and Norway's Ståle Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion. This is a fresh, new trio, with Solberg being the crucial link, having previously played separately with Thomas — in a quartet at the March 2016 Blow Out festival in Oslo, as heard on His Flight's At Ten (Iluso, 2018) — and Butcher — in a 2015 duo which led to So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain (Clean Feed, 2016); while Thomas and Butcher were members of the London Improvisers Orchestra at the same time, playing gigs and recording together in LIO, they had not played together in a smaller ensemble prior to this album.
The album's six tracks, ranging in length from under five-and-a-half minutes to almost eleven — a total of forty-nine minutes — were all improvised and together showcase the trio's skills in a variety of settings including as individuals, duos and a trio. Straight from the start, it is obvious that the three players are equals here, with no-one dominating or leading. In particular, Thomas' electronics never sound like an optional extra, as can sometimes be the case in the hands of other players; right from the beginning of the eight-minute "Dust", the electronics play a central role, taking the lead as often as the drums or saxophone. If anything, Butcher himself takes a while to warm up, building tension with short interjections to begin with, and only really pulling out all the stops towards the end of "Dust". On the longest track, "The Effort and a Smile", he unleashes another fluid, barn-storming solo, ably supported and spurred on by both his bandmates.
Throughout, as so often, Solberg strikes a near-perfect balance between the dual roles of individual soloist and timekeeper-engine of the trio. Individually impressive as the three players are throughout, the most striking aspect of the album is the empathy and mutual trust that their playing radiates; already they sound like they have bonded, played and toured together for several years. Given the history of Butcher groups being renamed after their debut album together, surely it cannot be too long before the trio Fictional Souvenirs becomes a permanent fixture. Roll on that day...
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