One of the most exciting things about Optic, a duet recording featuring saxophonist John Butcher and string bassist John Edwards is the fact that at several points in the various performances, the only way you can tell which instrument is which is by remembering which one is in the right channel and which one is in the left. Between Butcher's extreme timbral flexibility and Edwards' extended bowing techniques, there are moments when the otherworldly keening or doleful muttering combine to make sounds that could have come from just about any other instrument. The program is divided into two sections: a 25-minute duo improvisation entitled "Cocktail Bar," which was recorded in concert in Brussels in January of 2001, and a set of four briefer performances recorded live in Barcelona in July of 2002. The Brussels material is more raucous: at times the two players seems to be locked together, both playing their instruments with a single brain; at others, they seem to be almost ignoring each other. Edwards' occasional vocalisms punctuate the proceedings, and at one point it sounds as if someone's cell phone goes off close by, to humorous (and not entirely unmusical) effect. The mood of the Barcelona performances is more subdued. "Panel 5," in particular, is largely characterized by sounds of gentle sibilant abrasion, and "Grottes 1" is also rather quiet, with occasional noisy outbursts. On "Plate XI," Butcher's use of tongue-slapping makes his saxophone sound amazingly like an electric guitar. Like all Emanem releases, this one will not be everyone's cup of tea, but Butcher and Edwards are masters of their craft and lovers of improvised music will find much to enjoy here.
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