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Sunday, August 28, 2011

RED Trio + John Butcher - Empire (No Business, 2011) ****½

By Stef

I was already sold to this piano trio from Portugal when they released their first album on Clean Feed two years ago, but now they've managed British avant saxophone player John Butcher to join them for a series of concerts, culminating in this fantastic recording.The Portuguese trio are Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on double bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums and percussion.

Whereas they created incredibly dark and ominous soundscapes on their first album, their sophomore effort is opened with John Butcher acting as the crowbar, literally tearing open the trio's concept. The first track, "Sustained", is the shortest and a kind of warming-up for what's going to come.

The real power is unleashed on the second piece, "Pachyderm", which starts with eery sounds of extended techniques on piano, bass and drums, with Butcher playing high-toned soft oscillating phrases over it, sensitive and vulnerable, masterfully controlling the moaning timbre of his instrument. The overall tone becomes a little more lighthearted as the tempo picks up, gradually gaining more volume, becoming violent and angry, and when Butcher suddenly starts whistling on his sax, imitating birds like only he can do it, the trio quietens down, and the bird whistling slowly changes into otherworldly weeping, and as things move to a stage close to silence, all that is left is incredible tension, sustained tension, for minutes on end.

The second side of the LP is the title track, another epic improvisation called "Empire". The four musicians demonstrate the power of minimalism to start with,weaving their fragile sounds around the silence that reigns supreme, for over seven minutes, when the built-up tension does not get released, as you might have thought, but rather intensifies, especially because of Butcher's incredible sense of holding back his breath when you expect him to blow his lungs out. Restraint and sonic control is one of the greatest assets of this band, resulting in a fantastic listening experience.

I focused possibly too much on Butcher's presence, and he's without a doubt the most dominant voice on the album, yet the music is of course the RED trio's collective achievement, and they stay close to the musical vision they created with their first album, dark, inventive and intense, with Butcher offering depth, contrast and adding to the already gloomy atmosphere.

Not to be missed if you have a sense of adventure.

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© stef