JOHN BUTCHER
with DEREK BAILEY
& RHODRI DAVIES

VORTICES & ANGELS

EMANEM 4049

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JOHN BUTCHER soprano & tenor saxophones
DEREK BAILEY amplified guitar [on 1 - 2]
RHODRI DAVIES harp [on 3 - 5]

1 - LOW VORTEX - 27:46
2 - HIGH VORTEX - 10:04
3 - RHAGYMADRODD - 9:56
4 - PREGETH - 11:04
5 - DIWEDDGLO - 3:35

Digital concert recordings in London:
1 - 2 at The Vortex by Martin Davidson - 2000 March 23
3 - 5 at St Michael and All Angels Church by Tim Fletcher - 2000 May 24
Total time 63:27

All previously unissued

 

Excerpts from sleeve notes:

"Although Derek Bailey lives in London, he rarely plays in public there. One of those rare occasions is captured here - an evening he organised at the Vortex, a north London club that normally presents Jazz gigs. The first half of the gig (not included on this CD) consisted of solos by John Butcher and the guitarist. After the interval, there were two duets, which are heard as the first half of this CD. This was the first time Bailey and Butcher had played as a duo for about ten years, although they had worked together in larger groupings, such as trios with Oren Marshall and Gino Robair.

The second half of this CD was recorded two months later at one of the regular series of concerts that Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell organise at St Michael and All Angels, a west London church that normally presents Christian services. The three duets heard here are the complete performance by John Butcher and Rhodri Davies that evening - the first time they had worked together as a duo. (All the pieces on this CD are unedited, and presented in the order of performance.)

The two halves of this CD are very different, even though John Butcher is half of each half. To start with, the two acoustic spaces are very different - one is a smallish club room, the other a largish, resonant church. The music is also very different, possibly somewhat influenced by the acoustics. The duo with Derek Bailey is generally very busy, rather like a vortex, while that with Rhodri Davies is generally more spacious, somewhat angelic.

As well as being exceptionally fine improvisers, all three musicians have considerably extended the ranges of their respective instruments. Yet, all three use 'normal' instruments of the sort that one hears in more conventional areas of music. (It should be pointed out that Davies makes use of certain accessories not usually associated with harps. However all the sounds he produces involve the harp, except for an occasional bowed hand-bell.)

Bailey (born 1930), Butcher (born 1954) and Davies (born 1971) can be said to represent three 'generations'" of improvising musicians. More importantly, they represent the continuing development and renewal of improvised music. These two performances are very fine examples of the current state of the art."

Martin Davidson (2001)

 

Excerpts from reviews:

Voted one of the 50 records of the year, as well as Improv record No 4 of 2001 in THE WIRE

"There is always a certain directness to improvisations when Derek Bailey is involved. The guitarist has honed a sound and strategy to improvisation that is at once tightly focused and instantly recognisable while remaining remarkably open to a broad variety of contexts for collective improvisation. Bailey's angular, clipped freedom elicits a fluid, rapid-fire response from the reed player. Butcher's playing is full of rough-scrubbed textures and sharp-edged attack used to spray cascading lines punctuated with carefully wrought spaces and quiet, fluttering ebbs. There is plenty of careful listening going on as the two charge headlong into these extended improvisations that build to a heated intensity.

The pieces with harpist Rhodri Davies have the same intensity and abstraction, but instead of heated, conversational linearity the improvisations seem to hover in the atmosphere, exciting the air like charged particles. Recorded in a church, the acoustics of the space seem to act almost as a third player here. In Davies' hands, the harp becomes a new instrument full of phenomenal timbral range. Skittering plucked lines are combined with scraped harmonics, bent and stretched notes, and percussion, resonating sheets of metallic reverberation. Butcher responds with spare overtones and harmonics, pinched squeaks, and circular flutters that float like flecked motes in a sunbeam. The improvisation progress with a sense of time that is slowed down, magnifying every tiny nuance and gesture.

This duet release offers two compelling views of Butcher's playing. Utilising diverse strategies for spontaneous improvisations, both deliver equally engaging results."

MICHAEL ROSENSTEIN - CADENCE 2002

"VORTICES AND ANGELS is an absolute standout in Emanem's catalogue. The Butcher-Baileys, recorded live in a small London jazz club (!) have a dry sound quality that fits the breathiness of Butcher's putt-putt duck quacks, quick trills and long drones on the soprano (aah!), cutting at angles through Bailey's choppy scales and chords, flinty amplified harmonics and violent, craggy metallic timbre contrasts. It's all very angular, spiky and at times flat-out noisy (especially good if you hate your neighbours).

When the CD's second part gets under way, it's a whole different thing. Suddenly we're inside a church, hearing Butcher skittering out a difficult thread of fluttering noises so high-pitched that they're almost not there, while out of the other speaker come isolated sounds of springy, loosened-strings from what I thought was Derek Bailey's big acoustic guitar but noooooo! It's the unprecedented improvising harpist Rhodri Davies pulling off strange, isolated notes from his instrument. Sploingg….buzzzzz….Butcher then joins him in the lower registers (why, in church, yet!), blowing moody, fluttery figures with an almost granulated rough edge. Freely improvised duo playing rarely gets as tasty as this. Niiiiiice.

If you haven't yet heard John Butcher, take it from your old pal who generally finds the sax to be a dull, uninteresting instrument: he is one of the few true individual players thereof who are working today, with a tone on both the tenor and soprano that are like no one else's a rare thing at this late date. I think the three pieces by this duo would fascinate just about anyone with well-cultivated ears. Fifty stars."

TONY MOSTROM - EPULSE 2002

"The opening tenor-guitar duet, Low Vortex, is a probing, fast, and (for Butcher) unexpectedly loud battle of wits (or is it nerves?). Bailey uncorks some of his most exacting and fearsomely paced playing, forcing Butcher, ordinarily the most orderly of improvisers and by inclination a miniaturist, to think in terms of waves and convoluted tangles of notes. But as the improvisation unfolds over a labyrinthine 27 minutes, the near-bottomless depth of Butcher's arsenal of devices becomes increasingly, almost frighteningly clear. Even just as a demonstration of 'extended technique' it's an impressive performance, and overall this must be counted one of the best things either man has recorded in the past decade.

The duets with Davies are by the sharpest of contrasts hypnotically slow and quiet. Davies plays harp, but his use of bowing and preparations deeply estranges it from anything like what one expects his instrument to sound like. Both halves of the disc merit (and require) the closets attention."

NATE DORWARD - CODA 2002

"VORTICES & ANGELS offers two separate London duos featuring saxophonist John Butcher, and the title of this disc could not be more apt for the music contained within. The VORTICES part documents Butcher's performance with iconic free improv guitarist Derek Bailey at the Vortex, a jazz club in north London. Bailey dominates the beginning of Low Vortex; his open, adventurous sound keeps tugging Butcher forward. The guitarist goes electric and makes use of volume and feedback as supplements to his usual arsenal of scratching noises, rampant harmonics, and angular clusters. But Butcher is never far behind, and at times one can often hear the two battling for the pole position. During moments of peak intensity, Butcher pulls out all the stops and howls with the lushest collection of overtones one might imagine. Fortunately, these maelstroms are scattered among periods of more introspective activity. Butcher appears equally comfortable in settings that require gentle whispered breathing or bird-like cooing, and Bailey eventually calms down enough for some very interesting exchanges. With all the colour and dynamics at their disposal, these two players interact in distinctively individual ways. The record is particularly revealing, given the personality differences between the players; their interaction reflects both strategic and tactical biases, though they're usually on the same team.

On to ANGELS. Harpist Rhodri Davies and Butcher mark their first duo meeting in a fabulously lush setting at St. Michael and All Angels Church in London. Having experienced performances like this, I can affirm the church is a far better place than a club for this sort of thing. If Butcher's approach to the saxophone is a bit idiosyncratic, then Davies' approach to the harp is downright revolutionary. He prefers attack to decay; he prefers arco to pizzicato; and he prefers overtones to fundamentals. Nevertheless, the harp remains very quiet throughout. Davies' buzz-and-tinkle approach highlights Butcher's talents on the low end of the dynamic spectrum and the high end of the tonal spectrum. He happily constructs higher-order units from simple building blocks. Davies sticks with him, handing off more than a few blocks of his own. The ANGELS of this record do a lot of listening, and their playing reflects deliberate choice and introspective reaction. Each note acquires its own individual character when spaced out like this, though forward motion rarely suffers as a consequence."

NILS JACOBSON - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2001

"Bailey is creating more fluid and, dare I say, melodic interaction, than his expected 'vertical' playing. The half hour opener is very dense; they start off dancing around each other, and before you know it they are 'getting busy', lots of plucks and squawks around each other in an exciting encounter, Bailey also doing chord slurs which Butcher matches with brrrrs of his own which lead to quiter moments of exquisite beauty. The second Vortex is astounding; the two play as if creating melody (!) together. They're not, but there is a harmony and unity of mind here that shocks. This track alone would make the disc a must-have.

Rhodri Davies is able to both play his harp like a guitar, and also do fabulous chord strums and drones; it's a guitar, a prepared piano and drum in one. He and Butcher give each other plenty of space, aurally and temporally, so the interaction is, I nearly said 'spiritual,' and indeed this was recorded at St Michaels and All Angels. Don't expect 'the new spiritualism' which bores the fuck out of me from the likes of Arvo Pärt and company, nor is it as earthy as Ayler. Just rumbles, chirps, plucks, scrape from two superb improvisers using all the technique and intuition they have at hand. This will be on my ten best of 2001 list."

STEVE KOENIG - JAZZ WEEKLY 2002

"Basically, these recordings provide the listener with stark contrasting elements, yet are firmly rooted within the traditional or perhaps classic, British free-style mode of improvisation. The opener titled Low Vortex, is a twenty-seven minute opus, featuring Bailey and Butcher engaging in emotionally driven exchanges and the master artisans' unique vernacular atop expressively animated dialogue. Here, Bailey carves out a series unorthodox voicings amid his customary employment of harmonics as Butcher often answers with complimentary or offsetting statements via his buzz-saw attack and expert utilisation of droning extended notes and circuitous lines. Essentially, the artists' instruments serve as imaginary appendages of their respective psyches as the twosome alters the ebb and flow via a series of seemingly argumentative discourses and subtle shifts in strategy.

Butcher's pairing with harpist, Rhodri Davies offers a bit of counterpoint to his duets with Bailey while the musicians' also stretch their instruments capabilities to the max. However, Davies' often metallic, steely edged lines may impart somewhat of an illusion or perhaps signify the antithesis of your traditional fluttering, fairy tale like, harp-based methodology. Fortunately, rules were meant to be broken!

With Rhagymadrodd the soloists serve up rather haunting sequences of sub themes, complete with Butcher's mimicking of birds chirping along with Davies' well-placed notes, and non-conforming frameworks. Needless to say, most instances of time, space, and reality become jumbled and distorted, thanks to the musicians' artful implementations and wily interplay. Highly recommended. "

GLENN ASTARITA - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2001

"Like a vortex, VORTICES AND ANGELS sucks the listener in and it is impossible to escape the hold that John Butcher creates in the company of legendary guitar impresario Derek Bailey (for two tracks) and harp (Rhodri Davies) on three tracks. Both Low Vortex and High Vortex were from a concert with Bailey in March of last year and Butcher wails 'sheets of sound' that are jagged and arresting that at times flow like water. Because Butcher has seemingly mastered his instrument, he has created a vocabulary so extensive and complex that Webster couldn't do it justice. For instance, Low Vortex is practically thirty minutes of masterful free playing from both Bailey and Butcher. Butcher's slap tongue moments come off as integral ingredients rather than shoddy gimmickry. Bailey's modernist abstracts work in harmony and dissonance with Butcher, only further heightening the piece's provocative nature. In comparison, High Vortex is certainly more subdued, but not by much. The harp duets with Davies are of interest as well, but Low Vortex was my Groundhog Day and I found myself listening to it over and over again. Simply put, it is indispensable. Bravo."

FRED JUNG - JAZZ WEEKLY 2001

"John Butcher develops very different strategies in response to two string bending humans. He boldly thrusts splintered phrases through Derek Bailey's harmonics-strewn obstacle course. In harp player Rhodri Davies, Butcher finds a kindred soul, someone equally inclined to jettison his instrument's historical baggage. Davies matches arcing twangs and glassy resonances to his reed-biting counterpart's threads of long, piercing overtones."

BILL MEYER - MAGNET 2001

"Both sets are free improvisation of a very high order, without predetermined concepts. The Butcher and Bailey set is much more aggressive and intense, with the saxophonist squawking and jutting forth his unique blend of bird-like bursts, and the guitarist performing in his unique, inimitable style that eschews convention. It succeeds largely due to the fertile imaginations of the participants, two of the most original musical stylists at the turn of the century. The altered moods, which include soft moments that are nonetheless challenging and sometimes even rough, continually hold the listener's interest. The three tracks with Davies capture the first time these two performed together as a duo. In contradistinction to the Bailey cuts, the ones with the harpist are more subdued, though no less creative. The timbres of the harp differ from those of an amplified guitar, of course, and although both Bailey and Davies are each fully ensconced in the world of free improvisation, their musical concepts are different. Davies can be melodic (or at least less abrasive), the harp playing a more subservient role than the guitar. Davies, though, is also utterly effective, adding colours and shading. Butcher's high shrill sustained squeaks on Pregeth are devastatingly harsh, even thrillingly so, and his split tones are well supported by the harp. Overall, a remarkable collection that ebbs and flows with indeterminate frequency."

STEVEN LOEWY - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001

"The Butcher/Bailey set makes up for two thirds of the disc. Recorded at The Vortex, a jazz club, it was made of one 30-minute improvisation followed by a shorter one. Right from the start a spark was lighten up by the immediate communion of styles: the guitarist leads the way (doesn't he always?) and the saxophonist adapts, playing with much more power and energy than his usual self. There is no drone-like breath work during this part. The Butcher/Davies set was recorded at St Michael and All Angels Church. The three improvisations are more sumptuous and aerial, the room more reverberant. Consequently the saxophonist comes back to his exploration of the instrument¹s very soft range. Pregeth, with Davies bowing his harp's strings, is one of this CD's finest moments. In a nutshell, VORTICES AND ANGELS sums up Butcher's art very nicely, making it the best place to start if one wants to discover this impressive improviser. Strongly recommended."

FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001

"There are three generations of free form players here, so it makes an interesting proposition with that fact alone, to hear how they combine, flowing in and out of each others structures, sometimes incredibly well, others occasionally not. Your ears feel like they're at Wimbledon as they flit from one speaker to the other as Bailey and Butcher wrestle for your attention on the first two tracks. I must admit I prefer the last three tracks featuring Butcher and Davies - there is such an atmosphere, maybe it was down to the fact that it was recorded in a church? There seems to be so much more movement and exploration of sound on the last three. I'd be the first to say that the sounds on here are for those with an acquired taste, however, I'm certainly enjoying the flavour of Butcher and Davies."

DAVE W HUGHES - MODERN DANCE 2001

"Butcher and Bailey are equals in this music as neither rises above the other for anything other than short periods and most of the time is spent in back and forth dialogue of busy patterns where the ability to fire off notes rapidly is not a skill of survival. The music here isn't particularly pleasant or mindful of convention but listeners willing to explore sonic possibilities will find a lot to like here. The scope and twists and turns which this improvised music take sound as if they must have plotted in advance although they weren't.

Considerably different but arguably better are the final three cuts with Davies, which recorded just over two months later at the All Angels Church, also in London. Davies has plenty of skill but the harp does not allow for him to do much in the way of duets with Butcher. Instead, he plays more accompaniment type material with the exception of a few moments where he does stand out on his own. His harp produces a metallic, almost industrial backdrop for Butcher's squawking, long blowing and sometimes quite dramatic manipulations of the saxophone. Like the sessions with Bailey, these tension filled tracks aren't a walk in the park but they are quite meditative and conducive to deep thinking."

MICAH HOLMQUIST - ONE FINAL NOTE 2001

"Not a trio - it´s Bailey and Butcher for the first two, Davies and Butcher for the other three. While we still miss the Parker/Bailey duets of old, this pairing is a match made up in spirited high jinks, as well as striking notes of proper intensity when necessary. With Davies, John´s less involved in the yin and yang and they look at atmospherics as well as dialogue. Very entertaining."

RICHARD COOK & BRIAN MORTON - The Penguin Guide to JAZZ RECORDINGS, 9th edition, 2008

 

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