John Butcher | Made to Measure
This late Summer release sizes up for multiple reasons. Made to Measure is self-released and name your price via Bandcamp comes the latest from London’s sax improvisor John Butcher. This is a short collection of a half dozen works (1998 – 2017) that were composed for particular situations, for multiple saxophones, feedback, intonaroumori, sound files and more. like: a Daniel Defoe short story – the “self destructive art” theories of Gustav Metzger – pre WWII Arabic music, and music for Futurist Intonaroumori – multitracked saxophones and feedback. It’s an aggressive and inspiring collection.
Opening with and sometimes a mistake is the best move you can make the curious buzz of his instrument is on. One of the thing I love more than brass instruments is someone who can wield one sideways and invert its operation. Butcher does this and then some here harkening to some of the far-reaching work of avant jazz great Ornette Coleman, though instead of an all out assault, this breaks into vignettes of breathing, of searching, sifting, even at times sounding like a vacuum. The man has been at it for going on four decades, so I’d imagine that the years have enabled him an opportunity to explore every facet and possibility, by going to the extreme and sputtering into quietude. So much so that I didn’t even notice the transition into the mind eraser that is Asymptotic Freedom.
Between the Skies opens with a static-laced vinyl and some moaning alongside a slightly middle eastern theme. It’s in this odd space between punctuated jazz and the incidental transitions on a psychedelic soundtrack. The horn tweaks and bellows with an earnest squawk. Creating figure eights I start to hear seagulls and bagpipes – the sax is at the very center, but when it’s broken into what can only be described as acoustic raindrops, the proceedings have gone my side of mad. Butcher also plays on daring pitch, but it resides in the tucked away background as a curious set of bouncy effects invade the front end.
His set of explorations is far-reaching, like the squeaky wheel that casts off Penny Wands & Native String. Percussive tapping aided and abetted by the strange bird-like caws and un-patented broken melodies are at one moment unnerving, at another like some wacky science experiment under way. We play witness to the unexpected of both improvisation, the way the ball bounces or cookie crumbles, the detritus of a modern day happening. And I’m thrilled in the front seat here. I’m baffled as I listen to this atonal orchestra (or is it a trash compactor?). The sense of control (and loss of it) seems under Butcher’s thumb, as everything raises to fever pitch and is suddenly silent in an instant. He continues with blunt toots and blurts to the end. As Monk Hum begins, emulating its title in the lower range, there’s a split reverb that could be a tuning fork, or an all encompassing drone, but I’d think he’s using the feedback of one of the incorporated strings instruments.
There are ghosts in this here machine, but I think the composer finds a certain solace in conjuring them to shimmer in the mix. That is until the finale of Three Scenes for Five Tenors. Here we have multitracked saxes muddled together, blending with a certain flair, a friction, a vortex of din. What starts as spectacle becomes a siphon, draining the light slowly, swirling away though not wanting to let go, but against it all having to just release with a struggle to the last breath – with a smooth sailing short melody.