John Butcher

New Oakland Burr

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For some, percussion is the art of rhythm. For Gino Robair, it is the art of resonance. Be it bowing a cymbal, setting a snare drum into motion with an E-Bow or a motor, or even playing a "faux dax" (a variation on Hans Reichel's daxophone), Robair's art is here in a class of its own, far removed from the application of hand or stick to skin -- or from the electronic manipulations of Günter Müller and his followers. His playing is a program by itself, but John Butcher's multiphonics and controlled saxophone feedback offer the perfect mates, to the point where on several occasions the listener is left wondering who plays what. It seems that the sax player's lip smacking is organically fused to the percussionist's styrofoam manipulations, and the amplified sax feedback to the ethereal tune of the bowed cymbal. New Oakland Burr is the duo's second outing and consists of 16 short improvisations (nothing over five minutes). Each piece presents a single highly concentrated idea. The result is a series of dense and consistently attention-grabbing assemblages of squeaks, squeals, grunts, and wheezes. Whoever came up with the track titles is better than most experimental music reviewers at describing the music. Titles like "Throat Rust," "Slug Tag," "Cajun Squeal," and "Whine Model" hit surprisingly close to home (on the other hand, "One side is with a pea, the other pealess" may leave you wondering) -- and certainly more fun than the numbered, untitled tracks that have become the rule in avant-garde music. New Oakland Burr is as cutting-edge as it gets: extremely demanding, often harsh on the ear, shocking, highly unstable, and even frustrating at times. But it never gets pretentious. It irradiates the kind of profound honesty only possible when all artists involved are confident in what they do, open-minded toward the other participants' input, and gifted with a strong sense of humor, all at once. And there is no doubt that Butcher and Robair are that kind of artists.

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