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Friday, July 21, 2023

Christopher Butterfield – Souvenir (Redshift Records, 2023)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Reviewing, and listening of course as those two go together, music from large ensembles always presents critical and difficult issues for my minimal technical knowledge on music. This puzzle becomes even more challenging when it comes to composed music, which, many times but not always, demands a different point of view than improvised music. For example, there’s always, at least for me, the question (that comes directly from the practice of improvisation), of how much of themselves have the musicians put in the recorded music and the amount of freedom they had from the composer. To avoid any misunderstandings, I strongly believe that there’s no “better” way to play music, only fruitful diversity in different musical contexts.

This great CD spans almost three decades on composer’s Christopher Butler work and seems like a retrospective. All four pieces (more than an hour of music) were written between 1995 and 2013 and were performed, given a fresh take, in the spring of 2022 by the Aventa Ansemble, conducted by Bill Linwood.

The Aventa Ensemble comprised by twenty one musicians for Souvenir approached the material with the humble gaze of minimalism (another question, again: how much of all this is credited to the conductor?), with the vibraphone of Rick Sacks, as the solo player, playing a greatly significant role. All four pieces present a cosmic soundworld that even though derives from the same mind, is absolutely different from one to another.

I found a, totally joyful, tendency to base the music, something like a foundation of sorts, on percussion and the droney timbres of reed instruments. Repetitiveness, like in the fourth and final track called Port Bou, adds a playful alternative to the many times “serious” character of much modern composition. I find this playfulness one of the key elements I like about Souvenir. To be honest, for many of us who have dwelt deep into what I call “don’t take myself seriously” ethos of many improvisers, the seriousness in music can feel like a burden.

But not this time, not with Souvenir. I cannot tell if it was Butterfield’s intention but, after some listening, found myself totally lost in the aforementioned playfulness of Souvenir. I consider this its main advantage, very important when you desire to come back and listen again. We are overloaded, saturated with serious information nowadays.

Music is a non-verbal strong language that focuses on feelings. When listening to new music, I always try to remind me this and how much success, this new music, brings on this field for me. Souvenir directed an enormous amount of feelings through its repeated listening.

Give it a try, definitely, here: