weight of wax

JOHN BUTCHER Cavern With Nightlife (WOW 101)

Live concert recordings from Japan, 2002 and 2004. Solo: JOHN BUTCHER, tenor or soprano saxophone. Duo: TOSHIMARU NAKAMURA, no-input mixing board; JOHN BUTCHER, tenor sax (acoustic/amplified/feedback). 

"It's now long past the point when saxophonist John Butcher and his solo approach can usefully be compared to Evan Parker's. The only valid comparison at the moment is that both have recently founded their own CD labels. Cavern with Nightlife is the inaugural release on Weight of Wax. It documents two moments on an autumn 2002 tour of Japan. "Practical Luxury" was recorded at the new SuperDeluxe arts centre and club in Roppongi. It's the only piece on the record to feature Toshimaru Nakamura and his no-input mixing board, which creates quiet almost evanescent environments for Butcher's tenor. We hear him play acoustically and with elements of amplification and feedback.

"The title makes perfect sense. There's an impressive coherence of form and function, and as the improvisation develops, a feeling of what can only be described as sensual austerity. Emphatically not the reverse of that. Every sound is experienced with calligraphic clarity, it's beauty functional. Even so, the piece is almost an anticlimax after the four solo cuts recorded 60 metres underground at the Oya Stone Museum in Utsonimiya City, a cold lava cavern which chilled Butcher's saxophone but gave it an acoustic atmosphere far more profound than Nakamura's.

"Mustard Bath" has to be one of the most remarkable saxophone pieces ever recorded. It begins with a trill that suggests Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme, and then opens out into an exploration of high register soprano tones that might be birds or bats. "Ejecta" begins with stern, tongued sounds before moving into territory that for a moment (misleadingly) suggests Peter Broetzmann. These are the highpoints of a CD that wisely offers no more than an absorbable 45 minutes of superfine music. If Weight of Wax gives Butcher a reliable self-determined outlet for his work, Cavern with Nightlife is the perfect introduction. If you weren't around for his 1991 debut, 13 Friendly Numbers, this is an ideal place to get on board." —Brian Morton, The Wire

" The first four tracks feature Butcher playing solo tenor and soprano in the vastly resonant space of Oya Stone Mountain in Utsonomiya City. The roiling trilling tenor explorations that are Butcher’s stock in trade are certainly here, but on tracks like the opening “Ideoplast,” the saxophonist takes a new angle of vision onto these familiar stratagems, not only experimenting with the reverberations of the metal bell of his instrument but also layering them with the cavernous echoes of the performance space (he explores similar ideas with his soprano on the dense “Mustard Bath,” the most Evan Parker-like piece here). It frequently sounds like an angry cave-dwelling animal poised to strike. “Ashfall” opens with a somewhat tentative exploration of intervals, but Butcher slowly layers different grains, tones, and articulations into the mix, creating a fascinating palimpsest. Heavy tenor popping opens “Ejecta,” but the piece soon evolves into a raucous session of brash glossolalia.

"The last track is a 19-minute improvisation with Nakamura in Tokyo, the musicians’ first ever meeting (whereupon Butcher was apparently impressed by how very still Nakamura remains during performance). As good as the solo tracks are, the duet is the real reason to pick this record up. Not only is Nakamura is one of the world’s great improvisers working today, I am hugely impressed with Butcher’s ability to work in concert with him. Whisper soft soprano squeaks and gently coaxed feedback saxophone meld fluidly, seamlessly with the stripped-metal tones from Nakamura. And Butcher’s occasional crackles and sizzling flareups from his electronics derail some of Nakamura’s more restrained inclinations in provocative ways, especially in the piece’s wonderfully nasty conclusion. Let’s hope there’s more to come from this duo, and more of similar quality from Butcher’s new label." — Jason Bivins, Dusted

For more information about the label, go to www.johnbutcher.org.uk/Wax.html.