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Monday, July 2, 2012

John Butcher and Mark Sanders - Daylight (Emanem, 2012)

Double review.

You may well have noticed that we've started, in fact re-started, publishing a few double reviews. Well, we always have fun at the Free Jazz blog reviewing albums. The problem is that there's so much good stuff that everybody feels like writing about each album. I remember to my surprise Stef doubling one of my reviews a few years back. I'd given it an okay mark and he'd given it an slightly better approval. It made for interesting reading and gave a more balanced viewpoint, as we obviously both liked the album, but in different ways. Since then I don't think we've done so many. Paul and I have reviewed the same album (due to the fact that I hadn't noticed he'd already reviewed the album!!), but on different dates, never together. So hear we are, another double review from Dan and myself (Joe), I hope you enjoy them ...... it - the review - looks quite handsome I find!

John Butcher and Mark Sanders - Daylight (Emanem, 2012) ****

Reviewed by Dan Sorrells

It’s tempting (and often easier) to talk about sound and music using visual adjectives and metaphors. In many ways, vision is our most immediate sense, and language itself is skewed more towards visual descriptions than auditory ones. With that in mind, Daylight is an appropriate title for the duos captured here, not just because the performances were day-time concerts, but because both Butcher and Sanders create music that is particularly visual: largely concerned with tonal color and timbre, but also with aurally mapping the contours of a playing space.

“Ropelight” was performed at London’s Conway Hall, and Butcher immediately saturates the venue with his tenor, feeling out the edges of the room with his low, resonant multiphonics. Over thirty minutes, the piece ranges from busy exchanges of throaty tenor and drums to spare interchanges of chiming cymbals and wispy soprano. Sanders uses a variety of techniques to alter the pitch of his drums, and often juxtaposes deep, rolling runs on the toms with sharp accents of woodblock or bells. The final two tracks of Daylight were recorded almost a year later at Southampton University. “Flicker” and a good portion of “Glowstick” are focused on small gestures, slow smears of sound that diffuse through the space like smoke. Still, “Glowstick” eventually ruptures with a feverish, high soprano, Butcher’s circular-breathing and frantic pace leaving the listener feeling breathless at its end.

Daylight is long overdue. Butcher and Sanders have recorded as a duo only once before (a single track on the Treader Duos compilation) despite their pervasive presence on the world scene. Butcher has a history of distinct pairings with drummers, and Daylight reveals Sanders’ ears to be closely aligned with Butcher’s. Both are alert, temperate players. This isn’t to say they can’t be blustery and loud, only that neither plays to excess. Their shared understanding of dynamism, pace, and the positioning of sound is significant. This ability to so strongly and immediately compliment one another is only a further testament to their status as constantly in-demand improvisers.

Daylight is a great introduction for those unfamiliar, and a satisfying release for fans who have been waiting patiently for more from this pair. Now if they’d only do a trio album with John Edwards!

Check out the partial performance below, which appeared in full on the Treader Duos album. Sanders’ technique is something to behold!

John Butcher and Mark Sanders - Daylight (Emanem, 2012) ****½

Reviewed by Joe

One video (the one that's above) that I've been coming back to on YouTube is a recording of a concert by John Butcher and Mark Sanders playing (in duo) at St Giles in the Fields church, London in 2008.  It's remained a firm favorite of mine to come back and marvel at the constant ingenuity of these two musicians to keep up a constant flow of creativity over such long periods. This record is a document (a small portion I imagine) of pieces played in 2010 and 2011. Ropelight (tk1) is recorded at the Conway Hall, London in 2010, and Flicker (tk2) and Glowstick (tk3) are taken from a concert in Southampton (UK) in 2011. As you'll notice there's only three tracks ...! Good news in fact, you get treated to some nice long improvisations, no editing down, or time constrained recordings - Tk1 30:07, Tk2 5:57 and TK3 18:45. And to my ears it brings out the best in both players, or maybe I should say it  lets you hear the players warts and all (except there aren't any), and probably the closest you'll get to hearing these two giants of the UK improv scene without attending a concert.  

What about the music? Well, what can you say about the playing of John Butcher? If you've never heard it before it's a MUST, if you think you know what a saxophone sounds like then get ready to have your preconceptions re-configured. His growls, multi-phonics, flutter-tonguing, clicks, shrieks and many more sounds permeate the music in not only a musical, but playful way, constantly keeping the listener transfixed. On this record John Butcher successfully incorporates his highly personal sound explorations with a more mainstream melodic approach to great effect, Ropelight being one example. Most of the time Butcher looks around in all corners, seeing what he can pull out of the bag that will not only give the music a new direction, but is also a direct link to what's been played. It is in this complementary role that Mark Sanders wonderfully nuanced playing comes into it's own.

What can you say about Mark Sanders? One of the top percussionists on the UK improv scene, a creative player that manages to keep abstract improvisations moving forward, giving them a sense of rhythm, a hard thing to do! Yes, between them they manage to make music out of sound exploration, no mean feat! Sanders swirling percussive drums move around the saxophone, a little akin to watching a tai-chi workout, and although never becoming a swinging ensemble there is a sense of rhythm which keeps the music moving forward as needed. I also loved his use of tuned percussion (I'm not sure what they are) to colour the music, giving it an extra dimension (*). Glowstick highlights this, the clangs, bangs, whoops and shrieks at times give you the impression of being in a performance at a Tibetan or Balinese temple. Butcher and Sanders for me excel on this piece finding a way of complementing and inspiring each other to be not only creative, but also coherent.

Certainly the duo of the year ... so far, amazing stuff!

* = It also made me wonder why more drummers don't use these more often in their sonic explorations.   

© stef


Richard said...

Anyone who likes JB with drums should check out "Way Out Northwest", a trio with Torsten Muller on bass, and Dylan van der Schyff on drums. I was lucky enough to see them perform it live, but the album is great too.

joesh said...

Hi Richard,

I'm searching the net now ... any references?

Thanks - Joe

joesh said...

Okay, found it.

Yes it's one of those albums I never got round to listening to. I have quite a bit from Drip Audio (excellent label), but this one somehow passed me by.

Thanks for the tip.