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JOHN BUTCHER soprano & tenor saxophones
ROGER TURNER percussion

1 - ALMOST THERE - 8:03
2 - LOWER DOWN - 10:03
3 - HIGHER - 1:54
4 - A BIT MORE - 9:37
5 - FAR OFF - 8:31
6 - CLOSER - 3:58
7 - BACK - 5:35
8 - LENGTH - 2:09

Digital studio recordings made in Pinewood near London
by Steve Lowe - 2006 January 11
Total time 50:20

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

The quartet was formed about twelve years ago to perform MOUTHFULL OF ECSTASY (Victo 041) an instrumental and vocal impression of James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’. I thought about singing words on this CD, but then decided: What’s the point?



Excerpts from reviews:

"This improvising quartet first came together in the mid '90s recording MOUTHFULL OF ECSTASY (Victo, 1996), which was inspired by author James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake. Although vocalist Phil Minton has for decades performed with individual members of the quartet, and since 1996 has recorded fine duos with all of them, this is only their second release together.

In contrast to that first album, which integrated Joyce's words into the music, this one is entirely without words. Minton's extraordinary voice becomes an instrument like the others, conveying a vast array of emotions and meanings through sound alone. As so often, that voice astonishes in the diversity of sound it can produce; moans, yelps, whoops, squeals, guttural roars, breathless gasps, dark mutterings, Loony Tunes squawking - and much more - are all in Minton's repertoire. Never contrived, he produces exactly the sound needed for the moment, each seemingly produced deep within his soul. It is a constant wonder that his vocal chords aren't shredded in the process!

Minton's voice is in amongst the other instruments, not simply as a conventional vocalist. The music of the four musicians swirls around, with the focus never remaining in one place for long. Typically, a contribution from any one of the four lasts no more than ten seconds, and rarely do all four play simultaneously. Rather, this is a fluid series of duos and trios, with such distinctions as foreground/background and lead/support being totally irrelevant. On the rare occasions when all four do play at once - as at the start of A Bit More or the middle of Closer - the effect is stunning, a series of rapid-fire reactions and exchanges too quick to take in.

Moments that bring a large grin to one's face - even laughter - are common, often prompted by Minton's more unexpected and surreal interjections. Yet this is serious music in the sense that it commands attention. Never is it dull or po-faced."


"The quartet's low-key methodology here is perhaps akin to an improvisational focus-group. Minton intertwines with saxophonist John Butcher and pianist Veryan Weston like a chameleon. Featuring microtonal passages and an abundance of contrasts the band executes transient storylines amid percussionist Roger Turner's shrewd use of small bells, cymbals and unidentifiable objects.

Minton assumes many roles during the piece titled A Bit More, where the musicians elicit notions of cartoon-like characters. Then on Closer, the quartet gets riled up via contrapuntal statements, trickling percussion and Butcher's honking sax lines. In effect, no two works are alike as the band transmits a hodgepodge of emotive dialogues, often-spawning passages that decree torment, humour and subliminal inferences that confound the mind's eye."


"Time to put my cards right on the countertop and cop to the fact that Phil Minton’s name in the leader position on this disc gave me pause regarding what otherwise appears a stellar combination of free improvisers. After spending some time with set, several features succeeded in scuttling this admittedly faulty prejudice to a dark corner of my consciousness. To begin with, Minton tones down his more histrionic impulses without boxing up the sense of libertine spontaneity that makes his fre-associative vocalizations so idiosyncratic and dramatic. His vaguely linguistic ululations and exhortations have an actual instrumental acuity to them, an aspect not always so uniformly present in my past encounters with his work. Next, each of the four players approach music making from positions of equal footing, demonstrating a commitment to creating and sustaining a responsive ensemble sound. Minton sputters and whispers on the opening Almost There, but just as readily defers to his colleagues, each of whom adds their own fluid input in what feels like just the proper measure.

The outcome is a odd sort of chamber music that exudes both beauty and ingenuity. Weston’s clipped keyboard runs on Lower Down ricochet off Turner’s spaced kit clatterings, Butcher adding brief reed pops and putterings. Minton expounds in a brief outburst of flexing cheeks and flicking tongue before going silent. Later, he speaks in a weird warbling argot against Butcher’s muted trills and a cascade of piano clusters, the piece becoming porous with silence creeping in at the edges. Higher starts as a gorgeous lullaby of free-floating piano tinklings, bowed cymbals and Minton’s eerie croon, rising to a point of swift dissipation. A Bit More is beset by faux airplane propeller noises and a rush of wind shear percussion prior to a string of pauses that cut through the piece like holes in Swiss cheese. Minton has the wise sense to sit out and clam up when the situation dictates as during the middle section of Far Off where Turner and Butcher engage in some particularly intimate interplay.

The other ace in Minton’s pocket lies in the acoustics achieved by engineer Steve Lowe’s recording. Each musician is clearly discernable in his particular space and it makes for a listening experience refreshingly devoid of clutter or compression. As divulged above, I’m not normally a fan of Minton’s vociferations, but this set comes the closest to making me a believer in his quixotic improv persona. The faith so obviously placed in him by his accomplished partners here certainly helps."


"Perhaps it might sound strange, but when Almost There - first track of the CD - began to introduce this jamboree of like-minded bastard virtuosos, the first term that came to my mind was 'restriction', given their total control of the dynamic processes of the piece. But this is a quartet whose components' names would scare any superficial listener. Politeness is out of the question. We could associate this material to the image of someone trying to follow the fickle directions of a fly to swat it away, pursing lips, sweating because of nerves and heat, only to finally splatter the insect on the white wall with a grin. Lower Down juxtaposes Minton's polymorphous guttural emissions and contorted wailing with a splendid crossword between Weston and Butcher, who play convulsive staccatos and inhuman counterpoints in the most natural manner. In Higher, scintillating beams come from Turner as breaking-through admonitions not to forget the squealing element, Minton singing a deviated requiem in the meantime, while A Bit More ranges from conversations between a Tuvan expatriate and a sociopathic chamber combo to additional idiosyncratic cultivations of fantasy, with a great Butcher on the tenor responding to the vocalist's duckish spurts. Far Off is characterized by the saxophonist's dexterity in alternating saliva-fueled silent waves and multiphonic jams, Weston and Turner sustaining Minton at his most 'hysterically restrained' level of absurd bravura. Closer looks for the rupture of conventional interplay by running amok between silence, full-steam crescendos and choked disarticulations by the ever-incredible Minton (if he's not a damn genius, you tell me who the hell is one). Back is an obscure, crawling chant where Turner accompanies hums, wheezes and sparse piano notes with a sinister creaking background before Minton decides that his overtones must compete with bats and mice's, the quartet fusing in a grand finale that recalls the disjointed voices and sounds heard when surfing through AM radio late at night, until the conclusive mini-mayhem. Length is a (not less interesting) short post scriptum that seals another Emanem must, a high-caliber release that gives the word 'improvisation' its due lustre."


"Exactly a decade on from Mouthful of Ecstasy, Minton has abandoned any identifiable verbal component and the group behave more than ever like a prismatic lens, revolving around him. Here and there, notably in the main section of Closer, but also near the beginning of A Bit More, they come together in something like conventional ensemble or combo playing, but for the most part the instruments maintain a certain distance one from the other, which gives Phil's yelps, barks and wails an even stranger connotation. Wonderful stuff."

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


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