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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Florian Stoffner, John Butcher, Chris Corsano - Braids (ezzthetics, 2023)

By Martin Schray

Swiss guitarist Flo Stoffner is one of many underrated musicians on the improv scene, although he has played for several years in a duo with Paul Lovens and in a trio with Lovens and Rudi Mahall. What is more, he also works in a trio with cellist Alfred Zimmerlin and drummer David Meier, with the group Anna & Stoffner (a quintet with Anna Frey on vocals, Lukas Mantel on drums, Vincent Membrez on keyboards and Tobias Pfister on saxophone and clarinet) and with the Elgar Trio (a project with saxophonist Hans Koch and drummer Lionel Friedli). As you can see, he has lots of projects with musicians from the German-speaking world, especially from Switzerland. His new trio with the great John Butcher (sax) and Chris Corsano (drums), however, is much more international.

Braids documents one of the band’s first concerts (in Biel, Switzerland) and you can immediately hear that three musicians have sought and found each other here because they obviously have a common idea of music. In a nutshell, it’s more about subtlety than about banging the door down. John Butcher, who has released some very good albums in the last year alone, is looking less for the sound in the room than for the melody in front of the rhythm fragments. Corsano, who can also really let it rip, as he ultimately did in a very similar trio with Zoh Amba and Bill Orcutt last year, is very restrained here, almost shy. And Stoffner is an excellent guitarist, who has the same precision of touch and the same sense of absolute detail as Derek Bailey. He makes his instrument howl and ring bells, and he can also leave chords humming.

In the interesting liner notes, Brian Morton discusses the extent to which this trio’s music differs from boisterous, powerful free jazz, as the musicians refrain from playing their instruments very loudly. In fact, this is rather music for concentrated listening and not for tapping your feet or even head banging. It’s much more about precise musicality, crystal-clear interjections and a certain gentle thoughtfulness, but of course also about sound exploration and creation. This is exemplified by the third track, “Little Secrets Taken To Our Graves." Corsano strokes his instrument, it sounds like a roaring bass. Butcher and Stoffner contrast this with long, almost drone-like or feedback-like tones. This creates tectonic soundscapes that push against each other. Towards the end, you feel as if you are standing in a machine room with an aviary of exotic birds at its center. According to Brian Morton, here are “three men who, if you will, have won the argument already. They don’t need excess volume or headline soloing to get their message across. Their message is inscribed in elegant lower-case letters and rarely used aural fonts.“

Sound exploration does not have a good reputation with some listeners in the free jazz world. However, they should appreciate the quality of the improvisation and musicality - the combination of intellect and feeling - , which quickly becomes clear. Stoffner/Butcher/Corsano may not kick as hard and their music is definitely a sophisticated challenge, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great pleasure.

Braids is available as a CD and a download.