The story behind this duo reads like some cheesy romcom movie: a couple from the same neighbourhood, ideally suited to each other, end up working in the same area; sometimes they encounter each other through mutual friends but never quite get together, until one day...Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, as represented by this album. Saxophonist John Butcher and drummer Mark Sanders spent their teenage years in the same London suburb but never met. By the 80's both were active on the London improv scene and by the early 90's had played and recorded together but never as a duo. Although Butcher recorded in duos with other drummers — notably Gino Robair, Dylan van der Schyff, Eddie Prévost, Gerry Hemingway — with Sanders that didn't happen until a live set at St. Giles-in-the-Fields church was captured on Treader Duos (Treader, 2008.) And now, Daylight is the first entire album dedicated to the pair.
The album is entitled Daylight because all three pieces were recorded during daytime. As Butcher has commented, "I think time of day has an effect on how one plays." The album opens with the half-hour long "Ropelight" recorded at London's annual Freedom of the City festival in May 2010. The duo opened the second afternoon of the festival when the light in the hall was changeable. They played a thrilling set for the festival audience, which has transferred well to disc, every nuance of the interactions between sax and drums being captured in exquisite detail. Rather than a coherent set with a thread running throughout, it was more episodic, with frequent changes of mood, pace and volume, in reaction to the changing light or to each other. So, just as it seems they might be increasing momentum and building to a climax, an unexpected period of calm will arrive. Despite such uncertainties, the constant factors are the empathetic understanding between the two and the equality of the partnership; with neither obviously leading, fresh coherent music continuously pours forth from them.
The remaining two tracks date from a February 2011 lunchtime (daylight again) concert at Southampton University. Lasting six minutes, "Flicker" is an all-too-brief excursion into the kind of excitement that unresolved tension can generate; Butcher keeps us in suspense with the merest hints of breath and tongue-fluttering while Sanders builds the atmosphere to near breaking-point with some perfectly-judged scrapings and rattlings, never once breaking the spell. Simply exquisite. The album ends in fine style with "Glowstick" which is as different to the preceding two tracks as they are to each other. Across its eighteen minutes, the taut performance is in the best traditions of saxophone-percussion duos, as much free jazz as it is improv. Throughout, the two never cut loose, and a sense of controlled exploration predominates — exploration of their interactions with each other, their instruments and the space they are in. But while the playing does feel controlled, it remains exploratory and free without any hint of safety or rigidity. We can only be thankful that Butcher and Sanders did manage to pair up, and hope they record as a duo for years to come.
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