The Squid's Ear
Recently @ Squidco:

Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (Hatology)

In 1964 Albert Ayler's approach to free improvisation had found its voice, in a quartet supported by the now-legendary players Don Cherry on cornet, Gary Peacock on doublebass, and Sunny Murray on drums, heard live in a well-recorded concert at Club Montmarte, in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1964; ferocious and forward thinking, an astonishing concert! ... Click to View


Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zurich (Hatology)

A fluid and freely improvised solo set from New York pianist Matthew Shipp performing live at the Taktlos Festival in Zurich, Switzerland, 2016, presenting profoundly virtuosic playing skills and remarkable instincts in a continuous 45 minute set that maintains interest and strong bearing as he takes his audience on a commanding and coherent journey. ... Click to View


Marco Von Orelli / Max E. Keller / Sheldon Suter: Blow, Strike & Touch (Hatology)

Swiss trumpeter Marco Von Orelli leads this trio with Max E. Keller on piano and Sheldon Suter on drums, heard live at JazzAmMittwoch, Theater an Gleis, in Winterthur, Switzerland in 2014 for a thoroughly modern jazz outing of creative and extended approaches to the trio's instruments and approach to free jazz. ... Click to View


Harry Miller: Different Times, Different Places Volume Two (Ogun)

Compiling un-released material from late British bassist Harry Miller's recordings from 1977, 78 & 82, in bands with drummer Louis Moholo, guitarist Bernie Holland, pianist Keith Tippett, saxophonists Trevor Watts & Alan Wakeman, trombonist Alan Tomlinson, and trumpeter Dave Holdsworth; effusive joyful lyrical jazz infused with African rhythms. ... Click to View


Jean-Brice Godet Quartet (Godet / Attias / Niggenkemper / Costa): Mujo (Fou Records)

The debut album of French clarinetist Jean-Brice Godet, recording with a New York quartet of Michael Attias on alto sax, Pascal Niggenkemper on doublebass, and Caro Costa on drums for seven tracks of adventerous original compositions, using weaving lines in melodic heads that propel his sidemen to lyrically rich solos and asides. ... Click to View


Sophie Agnel / Daunik Lazro: Marguerite D'Or Pale (Fou Records)

The duo of French pianist Sophie Agnel and sax player Daunik Lazro traces back to their work in the quartet Qwat Neum Sixx; here the two as a duo are caught live at the "DOM" Cultural Centre, in Moscow in 2016 for 6 improvisations, contemplative to explosive dialog, inspired by the Russian novel "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov. ... Click to View


Isaiah Ceccarelli : Bow (Another Timbre)

Montreal-based Composer-percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, well known through his Ambiances Magnetiques releases, in 7 compositions, a mix of timbrally-based music in which he himself performs, and through-composed pieces that focus on harmonic progressions, performed as string duos, trios, and quartets. ... Click to View


Linda Smith Catlin : Drifter [2 CDs] (Another Timbre)

Ten pieces dating from 1995 to 2015 from Canadian composer Linda Catlin Smith, performed by Quatuor Bozzini and Apartment House, the first in Another Timbre's Canadian Composer series, a 2-CD release focusing on Smith's "equal and simultaneous drive toward abstraction and lyricism" in slowly developing, lush and sophisticated compositions. ... Click to View


Chiyoko Szlavnics : During a Lifetime (Another Timbre)

Three works from Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics, two electroacoustic compositions incorporating sinewaves, one with a saxophone quarte and the other with two accordions, two flutes and two percussionists; and a string trio of long sustained tones and slow glissandi. ... Click to View


Martin Arnold : The Spit Veleta (Another Timbre)

Canadian composer Martin Arnold is based in Toronto, writing melodic works that contain a meandering, psychedelic quality, as heard in these three compositions performed by Philip Thomas on piano and Mira Benjamin on violin, the first two pieces solos from each respectively, and the last a duo with both musicians. ... Click to View


Mat Maneri / Evan Parker / Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (Clean Feed)

Viola improviser and composer Mat Maneri leads this trio with British UK legend Evan Parker on soprano and tenor saxophone and Romanian ex-patriot and frequent collaborator Lucian Ban on piano, for ten compositions blending tradition, song, and improvisational tactics, recalling 20th century modern classical music in addition to jazz. ... Click to View


Rova / Bruckmann & Kaiser: Saxophone Special (Clean Feed)

The Californian saxophone quartet composed of Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin is extended with Henry Kaiser on guitar and Kyle Bruckmann on analog synth to perform the music of saxophone legend Steve Lacy in 7 compositions, putting an eclectic spin on the iconic composer and performer's music. ... Click to View


Mario Pavone (Pavone / Ballout / Malaby / Noriega / McEachern / Sarin): Vertical (Clean Feed)

Drawing from some of the finest players on the New York Downtown jazz scene, with Dave Ballou on trumpet, Tony Malaby and Oscar Noriega on reeds, Peter McEachern on trombone and Michael Sarin on drums, double bassist Mario Pavone presents a set of 11 new compositions of lyrical and sophisticated jazz anchored by the leader's powerful compositional structures. ... Click to View


Meridian Trio (Mazzarella / Ulery / Cunningham): Triangulum (Clean Feed)

A lyrical outing from the Chicago working trio of Nick Mazzarella on alto saxophone, Matt Ulery on doublebass, and Jeremy Cunningham on drums, performing live at the Whistler in Chicago, Illinois in 2016, recorded for this debut album of Mazzarella compositions, flexible pieces that balance jazz traditions with avant options for the players. ... Click to View


Chamber 4 (Vicente / Ceccaldi / Ceccaldi / dos Reis): City Of Light (Clean Feed)

A live concert at Les Soirees Tricot Festival in Paris, France in 2016, dedicated to the "City of Light", from the quartet of Luis Vicente on trumpet, Theo Ceccaldi on violin, Valentin Ceccaldi on cello and Marcelo dos Reis on acoustic guitar and prepared guitar, in music that, like the city, exhibits gorgeous simplicity through intricate sophistication. ... Click to View


Angles 9: Disappeared Behind the Sun [VINYL] (Clean Feed)

Saxophonist Martin Kuchen's amazing 9-piece Angles ensemble returns for an album titled for the grief of those who disappear due to war, crime and oppression, music that celebrates the tense balance in the challenge to confront and lead away from darkness and tyranny. ... Click to View


Honest John (Moe / Johannesen / Hoyer / Nylander / Holm): International Breakthrough (Clean Feed)

The Scandinavian quintet of Ole-Henrik Moe on violin, Kim Johannesen on guitar; Ola Hoyer on double bass; Erik Nylander on drums & drum machine; and Klaus Ellerhusen-Holm on alto saxophone and Bb on clarinet, in a daring album of mostly Ellerhusen-Holm compositions, arranged collectively into these creative and energetic gems. ... Click to View


The Selva (Jacinto / Almeida / Morao): The Selva (Clean Feed)

The Portuguese trio The Selva of Ricardo Jacinto (cello), Goncalo Almeida (double bass) and Nuno Morao (drums) in an album building on world and historic music forms focused through modern improviser's ears, creating a hybrid approach that slowly reveals its jazz roots in an unhurried but cultured take on new creative music. ... Click to View


Rune Your Day (Mathisen / Roligheten / Nergaard / Skalstad): Rune Your Day (Clean Feed)

Rather than ancient Germanic alphabet letters, "Rune" Your Day is named for Norwegian composer and band-leader, double bassist Rune Nergaard [Bushman's Revenge], and his quartet with Jorgen Mathisen on alto & soprano sax & clarinet, Andre Roligheten on tenor & baritone sax, and Axel Skalstad on drums, for an album of concentrated, creative jazz. ... Click to View


Humcrush (Storlokken / Stronen): Enter Humcrush (Shhpuma)

After a six year break the Humcrush duo of Stale Storlokken on keys and Thomas Stronen on drums & electronics return with this studio album of rhythmic angularities and experimental sound worlds, drawing on their experiences with bands including Supersilent, Food, Elephant9, Time is a blind guide, Meadow and Motorpsycho. ... Click to View


Thollem / Mazurek: Blind Curves and Box Canyons (Relative Pitch)

Recorded at an exhibition of visual works by Chicago trumpeter Rob Mazurek in Texas, this was the first meeting with pianist Thollem McDonas, in an ardent session of explorative improvisation using electric and analog piano, sythn, samplers, cornet, voice, bells and effects; inquisitive and cathartic music of great drive. ... Click to View


JR3 (Olaf Rupp / Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder): Happy Jazz (Relative Pitch)

The Berlin trio of Rudi Mahall on clarinet and bass clarinet, Olaf Rupp on electric and acoustic guitar and Jan Roder on double bass in an ironically packaged album of free improvisation of the highest standard, taking the listener on a journey of informed free jazz that references the past in thoroughly modern approaches to creative music. ... Click to View


Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society: Simultonality [VINYL] (Eremite)

Chicago bassist and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams follows up his incredible "Simultonality" album with this faster-paced album recorded with his Natural Information Society, joining traditional musics, American minimalism & jazz with the gnawa ceremonial instrument the guimbri. ... Click to View


Dunmall / Edwards / Noble / Sanders: Go Straight Around The Square (FMR)

The stellar quartet of Paul Dunmall on tenor and soprano saxophone, John Edwards on bass, Liam Noble on piano, and Mark Sanders on drums performing 2 extended improvisations balancing energetic playing with contemplative conversation, captured live at the Vortex, in London, England, in 2016. ... Click to View


Francois Carrier / Michel Lambert / Rafal Mazur: Oneness (FMR)

The well-traveled working group of Francois Carrier (alto saxophone, Chinese oboe), Michel Lambert (drums) and Rafal Mazur (acoustic bass guitar) performing live at Alchemia Club in Krakow, Poland in 2015 for an excellent example of collective free improvisation with distinctive and unconventional approaches to their dialog. ... Click to View


Udo Schindler / Ove Volquartz: Answers And Maybe A Question? (FMR)

Udo Schindler's Salon for Sound and Art at Krailing in Krailing, Germany is the setting for this superb live duo concert, capturing Schindler and Ove Volquartz both on bass and double bass clarinet, showing the breadth of sonic possibilites and diverse approaches from the deepest of clarinets performed by two masterful musicians. ... Click to View


Runcible Quintet, The (featuring John Edwards / Neil Metcalfe): Five (FMR)

The Runciple Quintet of John Edwards on double bass, Marcello Magliocchi on drums, Neil Metcalfe on flute, Adrian Northover on soprano saxophone, and Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitar recording at IKLECTIC, in London in 2016 for 5 excellent examples of detailed, collective improvisation. ... Click to View


Rob Burke / George Lewis / Paul Grabowsky / Mark Helias: Shift (FMR)

A meeting in NY's Lower East Village between four improvisors--Robert Burke on saxes, George Lewis on trombone & electronics, Paul Grabowsky on piano & snare drum, and Mark Helias on acoustic bass--playing a pre-composed work, blending 21st century composition with modern jazz sensibility, enhanced by Lewis' computer-based "shapeshifts". ... Click to View


Gauden / Hanslip: And How The Who Can Think the What... (FMR)

UK Tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip and drummer Ed Gauden in their 3rd record together, here stripped down to a duo, inspired by a planned trio concert where the pianist was unable to perform; the resulting show worked so well that the two decided to take it to the studio, this album the result of impressive avant interchanges in 8 succinct tracks. ... Click to View


Szilard Mezei: Still Now (If You Still) (FMR)

An exciting album crossing free improvisation with chamber approaches and extended techniques from Serbian violist Szilard Mezei performing in a trio with pianist Marina Dzukljev and drummer/percussionist Vasco Trilla, recording in Novi Sad, Serbia in 2017. ... Click to View


Email:



The Squid's Ear
Squidco Sales



  John Butcher  

Improvising from a Sound Perspective


By Marc ChÚnard 2003-12-15

John Butcher
[Photo: Kurt Gottschalk]
Music is identifiable, of course, by the styles of the people who play it. But their tools, the instruments they play, are often just as important in defining their styles and the genres. After all, what is more synonymous to rock music than the electric guitar? And what about jazz and the saxophone? Or the violin and classical music?

Throughout history, new instruments have always been devised, some falling by the wayside while others stand the test of time. New techniques are introduced, only to be assimilated into standard playing practices. And bodies of literature (both oral and written) are created that give form to new genres. As a result, technical mastery comes to be defined by a set of rules derived from old and new traditions and the acoustic properties of individual instruments. Wind instruments have been understood to play monophonic lines in a well tempered fashion, and any sound that doesn't fit into those parameters is viewed either as a technical miscue on the player's part or, worse, a sign of lacking skills.

While emphasis is still put on playing in a "legit" way, much has been done to stretch customary boundaries, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the realm of improvised music. Most musics are still readily identified through their instrumentations and specific timbral combinations (particularly scales and chordal sequences), contemporary "free music" is much harder to pin down. It cannot be typified by any one instrument and it does not rely on any characteristic pitch materials. Potentially, one could say that anything goes, but this notion is tempered by a performer's abilities and preferences. Like any other idiom, improvised music has its share of masters, plenty of wanabees and more than a handful of posers, though the problem of knowing who's who isn't always so clear.

Delving into the recordings of a given artist certainly offers some guidance. Records offer a kind of sonic snapshot, limited in time yet very complete in their way of seizing every gesture. As a case in point, the recently issued disc entitled Optic (on Emanen) constitutes a fine introduction to the musical world of British saxophonist John Butcher. From a North American vantage point, the tenor and soprano player has been gaining increased exposure over the last decade with his distinctive approach to improvised music.

Those familiar with his playing have long put to rest superficial comparison with Evan Parker, long upheld because of the fact they happen to play the same two instruments. Next to Parker's Appolonian approach, Butcher could be considered as more Dionysian, less prone to playing in overdrive (which he can do when circumstances push him to do so) than exploring the sonic minutiae of his chosen horns.

The whole range of his playing can be heard in this recording (the title of which refers to the small measuring cup put on top of liquor bottles in bars). Two live performances are spread over the 59-minute side, the first one from a Brussels club in January 2001 and yielding a single 27 minute piece (entitled, appropriately, "Cocktail Bar"), the second taking place in Barcelona a year and a half later and divided into four mid-length tracks. On both occasions, the reedman shares the stage with bassist John Edwards, a younger player who has now achieved a solid foothold in today's rather buoyant British improvising music scene. Their musical relationship is an on-again, off-again one, at times is augmented to a trio with the addition of drummer Fabrizio Spera. In both pieces, the saxophonist deploys a wide range of techniques; for close to half of the first track, the duo engages in a more classic free improvising game plan, quite discursive in its way of tossing out ideas and batting them back and forth. By the second half, both musicians change gears and focus more on exploring specific timbres and sonic nuances with some unexpected extra-musical occurrences, like the ringing of a cell phone in a particularly hushed moment. Asked whether that incident had any bearing on the performance, the saxophonist offered the following observations:

"The audience were on the edge of their seats - but there was certainly extraneous noise around. None of these were distracting, but part of the ingredients. A bit after the 14-minute mark you'll hear a door quietly squeak, which changes the course of the music. We also gave the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" its required space on the mobile."

Indeed, a cell phone ringing to that well known melody has a definite effect on the music and it is from there that a shift occurs. The Barcelona set, for its part, is also very sonic in nature, and the saxophonist focuses more on a range of extended techniques including flutter and slap tonguing, false fingerings, pitchless blowing and various clickings of the keys.

While his whole playing concept is not subserviant to any of the standard practices, it is by no means gratuitous. It lies certainly beyond the capabilities of an amateur noodling around on a horn. Quite to the contrary, for in the liner notes of that disc (penned by British pianist Steve Beresford), Butcher is quoted as saying "half a lifetime's been spent in tiny rooms trying to control these things for when the time comes to play a concert." His comment raises the whole issue of practicing and its relevance for an improvising musician, something which is of definite importance to him.

"I like to practice: you're trying to get all these things out of a piece of wood vibrating in your mouth and it's a process that needs attention. But, in terms of content, it has little to do with performance. I like to feel prepared for what might happen in a concert - but without making any plans about what to play specifically. It's a physical and mental preparation."

Central to his art are his chosen instruments, which he only came to in the '70s after having played piano, "though mostly classical." His interest in improvised music was developing concurrently with one of his earliest and most enduring musical associations, with pianist Chris Burn.

"At first, Chris Burn and I rehearsed privately," Butcher said in an email interview. "He'd work directly on the piano strings, and I began finding more ways to work with color. Then we started [the group] Ensemble back in the days when we had strong feelings about what was and what was not working. We felt that large group improvising was nearly always a disaster. Everything always ended up sounding the same: Things followed very cliched patterns of dynamics and relationships. So we tried to find a different way of interacting in a large group. In fact, 90 percent of that was choosing the right musicians to play with, those who were more interested in listening than soloing. In earlier days, it had about twenty people, but got whittled down to eight. We developed a way of playing that is very interactive but very maneuverable. It could make those changes on a sixpence that small groups can. I like that sense that at any time any one musician can change the structure of the music, not by coming in and playing some really powerful statement, but more by giving a little touch of something that would be just enough to make it go a different way. The structures we conceived for that group have mainly been orchestral, like who plays when. As for myself I like setting up structures for people whose playing I know."

Considering the economic realities of our time, working on a regular basis with a medium or large ensemble is a luxury, especially in Great Britain where support for arts has never been the best, particularly when it involves something on the creative fringes. In spite of it all, Ensemble has managed to play repeatedly, mostly on the continent and once in North America during the 1998 Victoriaville Festival. Like the bulk of musicians working in his field, Butcher works predominantly in small group or solo concert settings, which in itself make up for an interesting question as to his perceptions of playing alone and with others.

"A lot of great solo ideas are the kiss of death to group improvisation," Butcher said. "In a group, you have to step back enough for other people's ideas to make sense, but too much and nothing happens. I'm not interested in placing a static 'me' in different settings; I want each group to stimulate (out of necessity) responses, or ideas that I haven't had before. Of course, this only ever happens up to a point - but having this kind of aim affects the playing."

Also affecting his approach are his ways of using his two instruments. Quite unlike many tenor saxophonists, who pretty well from Coltrane onwards saw the soprano as a mere range extender, Butcher elicits other considerations.

"A tenor note has more information than a soprano note in terms of overtone structure," he said. There are so many color shadings available. So I can 'sculpt' the sounds more, manipulate blocks of sound, move outwards from - or explore inside - a particular sonic area. This might be mimicked on soprano by playing very quickly, so separate sounds appear to be almost simultaneous. The soprano is naturally more agile, but once you recognize traits you have the option of going with or against them. What is 'natural' on an instrument may not be the most musical thing for the situations you play in as an improviser. I also use the tenor to work with fast, short material that has some of the transparency of the soprano, or I might force the soprano into static material where you just adjust nuance. I've said before that it's important for me to try to forget that my instruments are saxophones - in the sense of trying to first hear the musical solutions I want and then find how to implement them."

Beyond his hardware, there is the added consideration of his "software," namely the plastic-coated reeds he has been using for years. And according to Beresford's notes once again, Butcher "throws even more reeds away unplayed than most saxophonists because he needs them to do things most players don't." In essence, his overall instrumental concept is very much informed by his closest musical associates, none of which are reedman but string players, most notably guitarist John Russell and violonist/live electronics player Phil Durrant.

"My early work with Chris then continued with Russell and Durrant," Butcher said. "With bow pressure and attack, for instance, a violinist can produce fantastic timbral variations, and I tried to do this with the saxophone. So it was the act of playing with these string players that led me to a lot of discoveries, rather than just doing 'research' by myself. I also tried to find ways to make sounds overlap, to get away from the on/off nature of a saxophone note. These approaches led to new ways, for us, of building group music - and then it seemed possible to bring back some more conventional elements. I certainly did this in solo playing, and my first solo cd Thirteen Friendly Numbers has plenty of melody on it."

Historically then, these encounters opened new avenues to him, albeit through a circuitous route. Up until the early '80s, music was basically a sideline for him, and in the middle of the previous decade he was part of a group influenced by the figurehead progressive bands of the time (Henry Cow, Soft Machine and some Zappa thrown in for good measure.) From 1977 to 1982, he pursued graduate studies in physics in London where he would obtain his doctorate. But it was not too long after that he chose music as his true vocation. Firmly committed to the cause of improvised music, he would nevertheless develop a style that would owe less and less to a more 'traditional' concept of saxophone playing.



continued...




The Squid's Ear presents
reviews about releases
sold at Squidco.com
written by
independent writers.

Squidco

Recent Selections @ Squidco:


Joshua Abrams
Natural Information
Society:
Simultonality
[VINYL]
(Eremite)



Brian Marsella:
Buer:
The Book of
Angels
Volume 31
(Tzadik)



JR3 (Olaf Rupp /
Rudi Mahall /
Jan Roder):
Happy Jazz
(Relative Pitch)



Rob Burke /
George Lewis /
Paul Grabowsky /
Mark Helias:
Shift
(FMR)



Francois Carrier /
Michel Lambert /
Rafal Mazur:
Oneness
(FMR)



Szilard Mezei:
Still Now
(If You Still)
(FMR)



Pedra Contida :
Amethyst
(FMR)



Tin (Dominic Lash /
Axel Dorner /
Roger Turner):
Uncanny Valley
(Confront)



The International
Nothing:
The Power Of
Negative Thinking
(Monotype)



Nate Wooley:
The Complete
Syllables Music
[4 CD Box Set]
(Pleasure of the Text Records)



Satoko Fujii
Orchestra Tokyo
+ KAZE:
Peace
(Tribute To Kelly Churko)
(Libra)



The Thing:
Garage
[VINYL]
(The Thing Records)



Anemone
(John Butcher /
Peter Evans /
Frederic Blondy /
Clayton Thomas /
Paul Lovens):
A Wing
Dissolved
in Light
[VINYL]
(NoBusiness)



Spunk:
Still Eating
Ginger Bread
For Breakfast
(Rune Grammofon)



En Corps
(Eve Risser /
Benjamin Duboc /
Edward Perraud):
Generation
(Dark Tree Records)



Evan Parker /
John Russel /
Ian Brighton /
Phillip Wachsmann /
Marcio Mattos /
Trevor Taylor:
Live From
Cafe Oto
(FMR)



Miles Okazaki:
Trickster
(Pi Recordings)



Orchestra of the
Upper Atmosphere:
02
(Discus)



The Necks:
Unfold
[VINYL 2 LPs]
(Ideologic Organ)



Evan Parker /
John Edwards /
Steve Noble :
PEN
(Dropa Disc)







Squidco
Click here to
advertise with
The Squid's Ear






The Squid's Ear pays its writers.
Interested in becoming a reviewer?




The Squid's Ear is the companion magazine to the online music shop Squidco !


  Copyright © 2016 Squidco. All rights reserved. Trademarks. (40234)