This is a very brave album even by free/avant jazz standards but it’s right up my alley. The first song begins with blips, squeaks, burps and digital interference that slowly, very slowly opens up to dulcet tones from Mr. Butcher. The mere fact this goes on for 12 minutes shows no fear and respect for their audience to absorb the music. It’s careful yet eccentric. Inspired but reserved.
The only way I can properly review this record to convey the feel of it is to do something unusual and maybe unorthodox; comment in writing while listening a second and third time so here goes (my copy of the record has no track names so I’ll go in order by number. I was also provided no liner notes or credits).
Vinyl skips, hollow, warm tones, soft digital screeches and blips (not overbearing), a few trills by Mr. Butcher (I assume), at around 9 minutes is that the hum of an amplifier?, percussion or tapping on the top of an acoustic instrument?, hmmmm…, very evocative, spacious and open track, there must be some laptop sampling going on here. Adventurous. Track ends at 12:51.
Some beautiful interplay between Mr. Butcher and synths/laptop sounds, wait, is that some guitar feedback at around the 4 minute mark? Right! Evan Parker is on this record. There he is. A restrained dance between Mr. Butcher and the feedback. Phenomenal. Oh wait, there’s some keyboard sounds for sure but just a snippet, now someone is making high pitched trills and I’m not quite sure if it’s Mr. Butcher or not, some behind the bridge playing by Mr. Parker, some subtle percussive sounds again that sound organic, the interplay between sampling, guitar feedback, Mr. Butcher and whatever the heck else is going on is extraordinary if this is wholly improvised, okay now Mr. Parker is punching his guitar, two saxes maybe?, wow. 12:58 long.
Scraping against a counter top? Room sounds, Mr. Butcher squeals, ah, vinyl again but I must say it’s used very sparingly, oh okay, drums are in here just not in the literal sense. There is a drum kit in the room but by no means is it being played traditionally and very sparsely, definitely two saxes one alto and possibly tenor, clearly drum hits now, more feedback, guitar chords arpeggiated, brushed cymbals, more sax interplay for a few minutes (the last two of the four tracks are 23 minutes and 28:27 respectively so these players are in no hurry), okay this is really building now and becoming very animated after the 5:45 mark, quite a dance between horns and now Mr. Parker steps forward for a moment at 6:30 and sets the tone, at 9 minutes the first guitar “notes” and solo enters on the entire record, a duel between Mr. Parker and the horns ensues, great stuff. Wait, double bass! Nice. This is my favorite track so far.
Playful combat between sax and guitar open this track, feeling each other out with textures by the drummer behind them, bowed bass, a lot more Mr. Parker so far than previously on this record (maybe he was the one sampling and squeaking on the first two tracks???), high-pitched feedback for what seems like over a minute, there’s sax sneaking in again very gently over the feedback, lots of sax, guitar and bass interplay on this one, Mr. Parker’s playing is superb and very tasteful, bowed bass solo, Mr. Parker and percussion sneak back in, morphs into feedback, sax breaks out of it spot on the note, must have been a lot of eye contact communication in the room, Mr. Parker again over a softly pulsing bass, sax enters back in tip-toeing, building to more animated now with some fierce interplay between sax, guitar, bass and drums, okay we’re at the end. Whoa!
A few years ago a buddy of mine, and there’s only maybe ten of us who listen to this type of music and play it in Nashville (or so it seems) called me up and told me I had to get right down to the Presbyterian church down off lower Broadway (!), cheese ball central for tourist trap honky tonks, to hear John Butcher and Thomas Lehn play. What? What the heck were they doing in Nashville? Anyways, I grabbed my coat and raced down there as fast as I could, getting taken for $30 outside the church by a man claiming to be a preacher who’s car broke down (I know, I know…SUCKER should be tattooed on my forehead but it was outside a church and he looked the part). Inside I was completely blown away by these two men, the dynamic sounds they proffered and the way they used the space. It’s a show I’ll never forget and in my all-time top ten. I even bought two records from both men I was so overwhelmed (even after being conned!).
This Quintet/Sextet album is recorded beautifully and it needed to be to capture all the nuance involved. It reminds me of that concert Mr. Butcher and Thomas Lehn gave but broader and maybe even better. I thought it may be difficult to listen to the whole album a few times for this review due to the length of the song but far from it. I purposely made no effort to find out more about it from the record label or anyone else so as not to ruin the listening experience. I’m familiar with a few of the players but not all (I’m aware Mr. Marsh the percussionist passed on after making this record). Still, kudos to the whole team for their vision and restraint. These are musicians at the top of their craft.
Can be purchased at InstantJazz.