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Monday, December 5, 2016

John Butcher and Ståle Liavik Solberg – So Beautiful, It Starts to Rain (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

Today we begin a week long series of reviews on duos ...

By Troy Dostert

In this meeting with Oslo-based percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg, saxophonist John Butcher shows his dedication to openness, space and texture, forsaking the more demonstrative approaches that often prevail when it comes to sax/drum duos. Fortunately, he has a highly sympathetic counterpart, as Solberg is just as willing to renounce any over-the-top theatrics in favor of close listening and patient collaboration. The resulting recording, while rather brief at a mere 35 minutes, does offer a number of intriguing exchanges between the two improvisers.

As one would expect, Butcher shows little desire to develop an overtly lyrical or melodic conception in his playing here, instead being largely content to explore the sonority of his instruments (both soprano and tenor), which gives Solberg ample opportunity to comment on the multi-tones, extended techniques, and percussive flourishes that Butcher offers in abundance. At times on the opening track, “So Beautiful,” Butcher becomes in effect a second percussionist, countering Solberg with assorted atonal pops and flutters in rhythmic interplay. As for Solberg, don’t expect a lot of fireworks here: while he is quite capable of matching Butcher’s occasional powerful bursts (see the duo’s kinetic, spirited exchange on “In Starts,” when Butcher goes into extended breathing), he’s more content to provide precise, careful small-scale percussion on his kit, with subtle work on the toms or snare rather than a lot of splashy bombast or cymbal crashes. Both musicians are in fine form, with Butcher being (as always) a marvel: his technical palette remains astonishing in its range and variety. This record certainly offers proof that it’s not only in explosive intensity, but sometimes the calmer, more patient explorations, where free improvisation truly casts its spell.