John Butcher - "13 Friendly Numbers"

John Butcher & Gino Robair - "New Oakland Burr"

John Butcher / Toshimaru Nakamura - "Cavern With Nightlife"
[Weight Of Wax,]

There is always reason to rejoice when John Butcher releases new material. This batch of new works is no exception. The most recent batch features one reissue of Butcher’s first solo record, along with two duo releases.

First off is the re-issue of "13 Friendly Numbers". Is John Butcher's first solo release his best one? I don't know that for sure, but I know it's one of his most important releases. When he had issued on his own Acta label back in 1992, over time it was pronounced to be a crucial step in overdubbed recording sax techniques, and it seemed that John Butcher was the new sax messiah. "13 Friendly Numbers" was a very good release, and I'm glad that the Dutch Unsounds imprint had decided to reissue it for the rest of the world to hear. Why is it a great release? I love the overdubbed pieces on it the most. Something like "Bells and Clappers", which was recorded on four tenor saxes, sounds like a cacophony of sound. This is not unorganized sound, however. It seems like a purely thought out process. Then, there is "Two up - Two down", recorded for two sopranos and two tenors. Listening to this piece is more like a game, trying to guess what John was trying to accomplish in the right and left channels. His purely solo pieces are as challenging now, as they were 13 years ago, when he had put them down on tape. "The Brittle Chance" features wondrous, drawn-out notes that hang there for eternity up in the air. To be honest, "13 Friendly Numbers" hasn't aged one bit. It would sound silly, if I were to recommend this re-issue any higher. It is just as crucial now, as the day Acta had released it some twelve years ago. Next, we come across a duo recording on Rastascan [same label that released his very crucial "London and Cologne: Saxophone Solos" back in 1998]. Entitled "New Oakland Burr" [probably some sort of a connotation on Gino Robair’s place of residence], this record features Butcher on his usual array of soprano and tenor saxes, along with numerous feedback methods, together with his long time pal, Gino Robair. As usual, Robair employs a variety of instrumentation, from his ebow snare, cymbals, motor, toy reed, Styrofoam to faux dax [his own unique variation on Hans Reichel’s daxophone]. The record itself is a facet of various bleeps and noises. We start with the overload of "Throat Rust" where Butcher outshines in the art of high-pitched squeaky manipulation [had this piece lasted for more than its 3:51 length, I would have gone absolutely mad] to "Whine Model" more of the extreme mouth-feedback-ear drum manipulation, to "Blagovest", where squeaky sounds take centre stage. What delights me most about this record is how easily individual sounds of these two musicians blend into a coherent whole. For most of the record, it is quite difficult to recognize who is producing what sound, what instrument was employed. In reality, "New Oakland Burr" is about two single units becoming one. Isn’t that what successful improvisation is all about?

Finally, we come to the Butcher that I love best. This is the man who is completely focused, and uses feedback and effects as little as possible. The first half of "Cavern with Nightlife" [4 tracks] were recorded in 2002 at the Oya Stone Museum in Utsunomiya City. This is apparently a mountain of soft lava that is now hollow due to 70 years of quarrying. The space where John Butcher played these pieces is 60 meters underground.

Imagine what the acoustics of this hollow cave are like. This is truly an ideal space for playing music such as Butcher’s. The final piece "Ejecta" features some serious call and response tenor playing, and I swear you can clearly hear the sounds Butcher produced just a few minutes ago reverberating from the cave walls. The second portion of the CD [19 minute track entitled "Practical Luxury"] was recorded at Super Deluxe [Tokyo nightclub / gallery / theatre] features the first meeting of John Butcher and Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board. This is where the noise fest really begins. Toshimaru out-does himself on the mixing board, amplifying everything past the human sound boundary. This is very extreme music. At the end of the track, my ears were bleeding. I listened again and the same thing occurred. These high pitches that are mixed with Butcher’s occasionally audible tenor sax whistles, were driving me into new levels of insanity. The tempo and range of the white noise doesn’t vary all that much, so it’s hard for me to tell whether this was a great recording or whether I should’ve turned the treble levels down. This isn’t to say that this music won’t appeal to others. Overall, I’ll take the first part of "Cavern with Nightlife" any day. This recording is truly a very schizophrenic affair.

Tom Sekowski

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>> John Butcher - 13 Friendly Numbers; John Butcher & Gino Robair - New Oakland Burr; ohn Butcher / Toshimaru Nakamura - Cavern With Nightlife
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