John Butcher

Cavern With Nightlife

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After folding his label Acta in the early 2000s, John Butcher launched a new imprint, Weight of Wax, of which the CD Cavern With Nightlife constitutes the debut release. Half a solo performance and half a duet with Toshimaru Nakamura, the album showcases Butcher in two very different acoustic settings. The solo half was recorded on November 17, 2004 at the Oya Stone Museum (Utsunomiya City, Japan), a cavern that was once a quarry but now serves as a performance space. Playing 180 feet underground, at a room temperature of only eight degrees, this location must offer the to musician a unique experience, not mentioning the acoustics, nicely revealed on the recording. Butcher plays four improvisations, for a total duration of 25 minutes. He uses both tenor and soprano saxes, but sticks to acoustic playing (his previous solo effort, Invisible Ear, featured amplification and feedback). The set starts tentatively with "Ideoplast," as Butcher flutters and pops, grunts and wails, testing the acoustics, perceiving the possibilities at hand. By "Mustard Bath" he blows full-force, throwing wave after wave of circular playing to the walls, letting them splash and bounce one into the other. On "Ejecta," he draws on all the techniques he has developed over the past 15 years to come up with a very moving piece, one of his best of the past few years. The 19-minute duet with Nakamura, titled "Practical Luxury" and recorded a week later at the SuperDeluxe club in Tokyo, is quite a different story. Nakamura's no-input mixing board, with its high-pitched frequencies and minute tone and pitch variations, call for another approach. Here Butcher plays his tenor sax with amplification. He digs deep into the instrument to produce feedback, but also very quiet breathing sounds and tongue flutters, attempting to blend in with the electronics. The music exerts a certain level of fascination, but it remains rather cold and uninvolving, even though this first meeting provides an occasion for the saxophonist to push his unorthodox techniques to their limits in something else than a solo setting. It is best to listen to Cavern With Nightlife in two sittings, approaching each set as a stand-alone document.

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