John Butcher & Dylan Van der Schyff: Points, Snags and Windings
John Butcher (saxophones), Dylan van der Schyff (percussion)
Butcher/Charles/Dorner: The Contest of Pleasures
John Butcher (saxophones), Xavier Charles (clarinet), Axel Dorner (trumpet)
John Butcher is one of the most impressive exponents of the saxophone to emerge since the end of the '60s, a player whose methodical study of polyphonics has led him to a vocabulary which is unique among his peers. While others use so-called "extended" techniques as puctuations or expressive gestures embedded in a language which remains founded on conventional jazz articulations, Butcher's music dispenses with this foundation entirely
His music isn't very jazzy in any event, and the far stronger influence of post-war composition is much more evident. He always sounds cool and rational even if seeing him live scotches that myth about this kind of playing; indeed, Butcher is rarely anything but completely involved in the music he's playing, and the results are tough but elegant.
The duo with van der Schyff is really very much like a solo session. That's not to say that the percussionist doesn't contribute much; indeed, the part he plays is critical in setting this apart from the numerous (though all indispensible) solo recordings Butcher has released. Van der Schyff's approach is to use only a limited palette of sounds at any one time, and in each case it's a sound-world close to Butcher's heart.
"Pool Lights" offers a good example. It opens with bowed cymbals which, as one might expect, form such a bond with Butcher's delicate multiphonics that the two are often inseparable. Later, van der Schyff switches to quiet clicks, and the saxophonist does likewise; then long, rubbing sounds return them to mutiphonics again, only much transformed. Throughout, the restricted sound-palette and proximity of the two voices make for a fascinating re-definition of the reeds-and-drums duo format. Something more different from Colrane and Ali is hard to imagine.
The trio disk is also characterised by close sonorities, which is surprising given the different musical styles in evidence. Dorner, like Butcher, has made those "extended techniques" his mainstay, but they sound very little like Butcher's. Where the latter's sounds are heavily reed-based, Dorner uses tongue and lips to generate his, creating an entirely different sound-world. Their shared aesthetic concerns, however, ensure that whenever they work together they do so closely, and this session is no exception. One can always tell them apart, but they travel the same roads in different vehicls, and the journey never gets dull.
Although Charles is far from a straight player, his approach is slightly different from that largely shared by these two. He likes notes, albeit squeaky, off-pitch ones, and that means he often adds a linear element to the dense sound of Butcher and Dorner. His is a voice we will be hearing more from in the future, a player of considerable style who knows what to play what (Potlatch previously released "La Piece", his impressive album with duo Kristoff K Roll)..
The noises these three make, then, are really quite different, but the overall trio sound is surprisingly cohesive. They work slowly and deliberately, building up textural ideas and playing around the margins of them as they do so. This is very dramatic stuff, and the final track is a tour de force which creates big, almost orchestral sounds from the small group.
It would be easy to dismiss Butcher's playing as merely technically impressive, were the evidence for his musicality not so abundant. He has little interest in grandstanding, and these days he has precious little to prove on a technical level. From his very earliest recordings, he has demonstrated a logical but also surprisingly passionate musical conception which has always outweighed in importance his researches into the uncharted waters of saxophone sound. Butcher is a hugely important player but, much more importantly, a musician who is a joy to listen to. The trio disk in particular comes highly recommended, but enthusiasts will much enjoy both.Richard Cochrane