JOHN BUTCHER tenor & soprano saxophones
MARK SANDERS percussion
1 - ROPELIGHT - 30:07
2 - FLICKER - 5:57
3 - GLOWSTICK - 18:45
Digital concert recordings
1 London (Conway Hall) [Freedom of the City Festival] Ė 2010 May 3 - by Sebastian Lexer & Rick Campion
2 & 3 Southampton (Turner Sims) Ė 2011 February 28 - by Simon Reynell
Total time 55:05
All previously unissued
Although both Mark Sanders and John Butcher spent their teenage years in the London suburb of Petts Wood, they didnít meet each other until the mid-80s. Their first musical encounter was at the home of Derek Bailey, and they have crossed paths frequently over the years since, but, for whatever reason, have seldom played together until recently. A handful of duo performances yielded just one brief document, a 25-minute set recorded at St. Giles-in-the-Fields church, London, in 2008, and subsequently released on the TREADER DUOS album.
This is a strange state of affairs, not just given the interconnectedness of the British community of improvising musicians within which they operate, but particularly since Sanders and Butcher are (as you can hear) so well suited. They are both meticulous and understated performers, whose improvisations express lifetimes of musical absorption with economy and expressive precision.
The thirty minutes of this albumís Ropelight was recorded at the annual Freedom of the City festival, at Londonís Conway Hall. The hall is home to an ethical society that promotes the hallís use as 'a hub for freedom of expression and progressive thought'. That makes it perfect, in conceptual terms at least, not just for an annual celebration of the freedom principle in music, but more specifically for the music of Butcher and Sanders, which exemplifies ideational clarity.
As they opened the second afternoon of the festival, light filtered through passing clouds and the partially occluded glass of the roof, and the duo was illuminated by a natural chiaroscuro that seemed to accentuate the musicís malleability. Hence DAYLIGHT, which might at first seem a curious title for an album of improvised music, which is usually considered a distinctly crepuscular exercise.
John Butcher recalls that people noticed the light changes, and tells me that the Southampton University performance was also a lunchtime concert. 'I liked this title,' he says, 'because I think the music of both concerts is quite luminous. Thereís a certain unity to them. It was all daytime music. I think time of day has an effect on how one plays.'
At times Butcher made the acoustical properties of the Conway Hall resonate with the sound of his tenor. Of course this is something heís renowned for, but I didnít expect him to achieve it in this most sonically sedate of venues. He often thinks, he says, in terms of colour as much as of direct pitch, and experiences serial collaboration as an additive learning process that necessitates conceptual and technical malleability. You can hear that process at work in his playing with Mark Sanders, who is so in the moment that he seems almost egoless.
The duoís progress through Ropelight is a slow morphogenesis, a sequence of various but consistently non-idiomatic changes. Sandersí approach to the drums is purposeful but restrained, as he switches between drumsticks, brushes, brass bells and simple hand-pats to achieve the required degree of subtlety, always with a deft and musical sensibility and always maintaining clarity of purpose. Iíve heard few improvisations so elegantly managed.
But for all the expansive variegation of the journey through Ropelight, it taps only a fraction of the duoís potentiality. The shorter, more concentrated performances from Southampton complement the London date beautifully. Throughout the rarefied but conceptually compacted Flicker, Butcher and Sanders are exclusively concerned with the flux of new sound relationships. It is only during Glowstick that the duo really comes close to evoking the 'fire music' that burns at the heart of so much free playing, particularly where drum duets are concerned. But even here, between intensities, the heat of the performance dissipates into exploratory, drawn out textures and harmonics.
Butcher and Sanders assiduously avoid the easy option of oblation to musicís past. Theirs is a novel syncretism of high drama and vivid musicality, their art continually recast in new light.
TIM OWEN (2012)
"This is a more abstract, stripped-down form of free improvisation based on deep listening and discreet sounds. That being said, there's a lot happening on DAYLIGHT. The first 30-minute set is rather impressionistic, talkative, and lively. The other two pieces are more arid and experiment with ghost harmonics and strange resonances between sax and drum."
FRAN«OIS COUTURE - MONSIEUR D…LIRE 2012
"There is a visceral energy that drives the music on DAYLIGHT and all of this has to do with the wonderful musicality of saxophonist John Butcher and drummer Mark Sanders. From the sense of moist breath that courses through Butcher's horn - as interspersed with breathy growls, guttural smears and sensational squeaks and wails, depending on the emotional prompts of the improvised score - to the primordial echo of Sanders' drums, the music turns a whole palette of colours and hues as it unfolds in all its diaphanous glory. Both musicians find their magical and mystical levels by immersing themselves in the colours of the music as it sings to them in the deepest recesses of their minds and hearts. In fact, the dichotomy of nocturnal inspiration unveiling itself dappled by the sun is prescient throughout the record.
Butcher's part in what appears to be an almost continuous score, swirls and darts in and out of the shadows. The saxophonist builds an amorphous structure of sound into which he plunges with tenor and soprano saxophone. Inspired by the tone and timbre of each of the instruments, he twists and turns with the push of every key. There are times when his playing imitates the very breath of life as it drives the pulsations of the human body. This becomes an even more glorious artistic pursuit when Butcher adds subtle shades and sometimes even riotous colour to the shrieks and growls and speech-like notes that fly out of the bells of his woodwinds. These are sometimes repeated and, as this is done, the notes turn numerous shades of the colour that the tonal centre of each note presents.
Sanders is a percussionist colourist in his own right. He starts by finding the pulse of the music and setting the framework of the musical fibrillation. This is a constantly shifting meter sometimes dictated by where Butcher has taken the music; at other times where Sanders and his drums are vibrating. Depending on whether he is using sticks, mallets or brushes, Sanders' music dwells in a state of constantly changing colours. His brassy swishes on cymbals create bright gold auras within which the music propels itself onward and upward, simulating the ebb and swell of titanic waves lapping at the feet of the saxophonist, who responds with brilliant shimmering hues of his own.
As a duo the saxophonist and the percussionist are both joined at the hip as well as float and dance freely around each other. Their music is as much an audio sojourn as it is a visual delight in the fourth dimension of the soul. What it does is create the imagery of two free-floating musicians dancing around each other like the proverbial double-helix, at times, but also more often than not in a kind of freedom dance that can only come when two musical souls are so united that amorphous music they create becomes the fascinating dance of the very light of life itself. "
RAUL D'GAMA ROSE - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2012
"Though Butcher and Sanders have both worked in the English free improvisation scene since the 1980s, it's only been within the past few years that they've started performing and recording as a duo. DAYLIGHT is the first full-length result. Ropelight, the first of three improvisations and the lengthiest at a half hour, was recorded at the 2010 Freedom of the City Festival in London. Starting with sputtering rumble, the pair erupt into sinewy, evenly doled-out salvos in short order, Butcher's burred, chunky accents and keening flutter measured against bells, woodblocks, mallets and brushes. Though the history of tenor-drums duos is imbued with visions of high-energy freedom, Butcher and Sanders evince something far more measured in structure, even in blustery passages. At the same time, Butcher's pierced-metal winnow and Sanders' woody, detailed insistence are quite far removed from the extremism of the Evan Parker-Paul Lytton sound environment.
Switching to soprano, Butcher's phraseology is coolly analogous to modern oboe and flute music, with double reed-like bends and dry slaps building into a curling fantasia against the drummer's stripped-down bellows. Following a pair of unaccompanied sections that beautifully retain momentum, the duo closes in skull-vibrating resonance achieved with direct and adroitly-applied mass.
Flicker and Glowstick were recorded at Southampton University in 2011; the former's terse micro approach a fine programmatic division between spry bookends. Glowstick might begin athletically, but Butcher and Sanders parse that muscularity into fine and fibrous textures, the saxophonist's long tones met with deep vibrations and, skirling upward, bolstered by a throaty and energetic swing. Particulate but incredibly open and nodding at steely exchanges of tradition, DAYLIGHT is an essential dose of modern improvised dialogues."
CLIFFORD ALLEN - AUSTINIST 2012
"Multiphonics and flutter-tonguing are both distinctive hallmarks of John Butcher's saxophone playing. Caught in between pitches, or hovering between sound and silence, stability and instability, they're apt sonic metaphors for his improvisation, which looks back affectionately to the 'jeu de notes' of his early work with John Stevens and Derek Bailey while remaining in line with his latterday explorations of feedback, electronics and environmental acoustics. Oddly enough, Butcher and Sanders, despite hailing from the same neck of the woods, have played as a duo only rarely, and relatively recently at that. As a result, these three pieces, recorded live at Freedom Of The City in 2010 and the following year in Southampton, combine the thrill of discovery with the maturity of shared experience and history in the London Improv community."
DAN WARBURTON - THE WIRE 2012
"Over the past decade, saxist John Butcher, has become the man to watch, as one of the most important experimental saxists and whose playing is constantly evolving as he takes a rather scientific approach to his explorations. on each disc, whether solo, duo or trio, he pushes the envelope and comes up with something new to hear. Mark Sanders is an equally creative percussionist who has worked with an array of masters like Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall and Jah Wobble.
There is an astonishing interconnected depth that runs through this disc. The give and take is so close, it is a complete communion of the spirits. Like Evan Parker or John Zorn, Butcher is an expert at extended techniques and/or multiphonic sax sounds. There are some sounds he makes here which are closer to bird-calls than anything else, as well as some odd microscopic bits which are both unique and fascinating. Sanders is a perfect partner no matter where Butcher moves. There are a number of magical moments when Sanders rubs or bows his cymbals while Butcher bends his notes in a similar eerie way. 55 minutes long and clearly outstanding!"
BRUCE LEE GALLANTER - DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY 2012
"It may seem bizarre to call so generally understated a recording a scorcher, but thatís in fact precisely how I choose to describe the magnificent DAYLIGHT. Filled with a sustained tension and intensity that brings each detail into vibrant relief, itís got the heat of a most vital organism, star-stuff coming out in sparks. The half-hour Ropelight sounds in its opening sequences very much like music creating its own context. The pieceís long-held tones sound out parameters and edges, as delicate patterns and rubbed membranes coax more and more grain, evolving into a shared phraseology. Itís breathtaking when improvised music is realized in this fashion, and as marvellous as Butcher is you also must give credit to Sandersí vast imagination and tonal range. By the time the piece makes its impression, though, there is an almost complete drop into silence thatís an absolute stunner. If you could rock out to a hush, this would be the time. As the piece gathers itself into a new context, Butcher switches to the straight horn, trilling and buzzing inside Sandersí patient, focused rolls and punctuations.
Of the second and third pieces, the bewitching Flicker has the simplicity and profundity of a Gerhard Richter painting. Butcher plays into the Sachiko M register in places while Sanders creates controlled whorls of sound. Glowstick, by contrast, explores at length the most evident series of contrastive sounds: a high springy tone set against rustle or a coil of overtones against lone thwack. The record is riveting, alive and mercurial. Here a declamatory change of course, there a sizzling burr of a sax tone, and always more movement, each time as if the musicians are peering inside the music in real time. Theyíre not exactly inventing a world that will be wholly unfamiliar to listeners here but they do realize and guide us through it in the most marvellous ways."
JASON BIVINS - POINT OF DEPARTURE 2013
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