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Monday, September 19, 2022

Butcher/ Davies/ Davis/ Lash/ Lazaridou-Chatzigoga – nodosus (Empty Birdcage Records. 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Recorded at Café Oto in December 2017, this CD presents the quintet of saxophonist John Butcher, violinist Angharad Davies, trumpeter Matt Davis, bassist Dominic Lash and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga on zither. The term “nodosus”, previously unknown to me, would seem, given the character of the music, to refer to potamogeton nodosus, “a species of aquatic plant known by the common names longleaf pondweed and Loddon pondweed…the inflorescence is a spike of many small flowers arising from the water on a peduncle” (wikipedia). The design of the jacket, an aquatic watercolour by Beverey Waller, enhances the theme as does an accompanying text by Helen Frosi in which phrases describing water, creatures, plants and trees seem to radiate on a square sheet of paper, at the centre of which is the phrase “symptoms of epiphany”.

Apart from the quality of the musicians, nodosus is immediately distinguished by the presence of three string instruments in the group, among them the unusual zither, lending the music a distinctive texture. More significant, of course, is the way the instruments are being played. Central elements include high harmonics from Davies’ violin and contrastingly gritty, almost industrial bowed textures from Lash. Butcher and Davis, as well, frequently contribute sustained tones, and Davis, it should be noted, contributes tones so subtle that trumpet might elude identification. Butcher occasionally suggests a quiet quorum of small woodland creatures.

While most of the band members are familiar figures in the English improvising community, Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s name was new to me. She plays amplified zither, evidently with extended techniques because there is literally nothing here to make an enthusiast of traditional zither music suddenly exclaim, “Now that’s the zither I came to hear!” She previously recorded a duet CD with Martin Küchen, Bauchredner on Cathnor, and more recently a duet with Ferran Fages on Another Timbre, both of which I’ll be seeking out. Her contribution here must include much of a wealth of otherwise unattributable sounds -- rapid amplified, percussive strings, some bowing, some light rasping electronics, and some of the various bird-like sounds – all sounding perfectly apt.

The music is so rare and so calm, so deliberate and yet unpredictable in the evolution of its textures and events, including the organically arising passages of near-silence, that it might be the sacred music of an unknown creed, the state music of a eutopia, the dance music of an unknown species.


A word on Empty Birdcage Records: The label is a project of the guitarist Daniel Thompson who launched it in 2020, situating its activity in the period since the Covid-19 pandemic. After arriving in London in 2006, he studied with John Russell for two years, absorbing much of Russell’s wisdom, dynamism and wit in developing his own voice, all apparent on a brief solo tribute called John available as a download on the label’s Bandcamp page. Thompson has played with a broad spectrum of the London improvising community, and the label includes his duo recordings with saxophonist Colin Webster and violist Benedict Taylor as well as a trio with violinist Philipp Wachsmann and analogue synthesist Martin Hackett. Other releases so far include a solo recording by percussionist Steve Noble and Crunch, a Mopomoso performance by the trio of Hutch Demouilpied, trumpet and flutes; Matt Hutchinson, piano; and Sue Lynch, tenor saxophone and clarinet. Thompson is a conscientious curator and all the releases reward close listening.


Colin Green said...

Agreed Stuart, an excellent performance.

Regarding guitarist Daniel Thompson, in addition to the albums you mention I would also recommend the following:

Neil Metcalfe, Guillaume Vittard, Daniel Thompson – “Garden of Water and Light”
Daniel Thompson, Alex Ward, Benedict Taylor – “Compost”

I reviewed both albums back in 2013:

3 albums by the Runcible Quintet (Adrian Northover, Daniel Thompson, John Edwards, Marcello Magliocchi, Neil Metcalfe) – “Three”, “Four”, and “Five”.

Steve Noble and Daniel Thompson – “Sunday Afternoon (Live at the Hundred Years Gallery)”, a particular favourite. You can view their first improvisation, close up, here:

Stuart Broomer said...

Thanks, Colin,
That's a terrific list.

Chris Atton said...

Thank you for drawing this release to my attention. Listened to five mins online and ordered the CD. For a long time, feel quite excited about a new release (my preference tends towards 'back catalogue' of free improvisation).

Let's have more reviews like this.

Best wishes,