John Butcher

London & Cologne: Saxophone Solos

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This is a selection of solo recordings, all but one of them from live performances, that captures Butcher at his personal crossroads between his prior activity as an avant-garde player out of the Evan Parker tradition and the more purely sound-oriented work he would do later on with Polwechsel and various other collaborations as well as in more refined solo outings. The listener can almost hear the intellectual strain as Butcher attempts to wring as much as possible from his horn while remaining in the more jazz-based stance, creating a fascinating tension that only rarely resolves. Parts of "Shrinkdown," the one studio piece, for four overdubbed sopranos, get to some of his ensuing concerns as he begins to treat his instrument more as a sound-generating metallic object than as a saxophone, working in breath sounds and key manipulation. One can hear his prior training as a physics professor coming clearly, and very impressively, into play. Still, the pleasure of hearing Butcher create the plaintive, melancholy "Almost Secret," a song that reminds one of Joe McPhee's wonderful ventures into this area, is intense enough to cause the listener to hope that he hadn't entirely abandoned this approach. For those who had enjoyed his work in myriad ensembles (including Barry Guy's magnificent London Jazz Composers Orchestra) but were wary about following him into the more abstract terrain, as evinced on his brilliant Fixations (14) on Emanem, this recording could be the one to get you over the hump.

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