John Butcher started his label Weight of Wax (his second, following Acta in the 1990s) in 2004 with the issue of Cavern With Nightlife, a collection of solos and duets with Toshimaru Nakamura. It was one of his strongest releases to date, and the prospect of what Butcher might do with this new initiative was not just a little intriguing.
The fact that five years passed before WOW02 arrived could mean any number of things, but one thing that seems certain is that somethingtobesaid was not a rushed release. Butcher has, of course, had strong releases on other label in the interim (see the excellent Resonant Spaces on Confront as just one example). But whatever the explanation, this surprising new session is an exciting new arrival from the label.
There are reasons besides its label profile that make somethingtobesaid an exciting release, of course. The saxophonist is most often heard in improvised, small group settings, yet here has assembled an octet of players for what seems to be a structured piece, commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2008. The band, unsurprisingly, is made of a mix of inventive players and an eclectic combination of instruments: an orthodox-on-paper band of pianist Chris Burn, bassists John Edwards and Adam Linson and percussionist Gino Robair is augmented by Clare Cooper's harp and guzheng, dieb13's turntables and Thomas Lehn's analogue synthesizer. But the ensemble never plays all at once; rather, it's a constantly shifting tag game of solos, duos and trios. In this sense, it could come off as a variation of the sorts of improv games that Derek Bailey, John Bissett and John Zorn, among others, have devised, but there's something more preconceived, or at least the feeling of such, going on here. The shifting in instruments never disrupts the flow of the music, and quite notably almost goes past unnoticed as the narrative continues across instrumental voices. (A photo on the inside cover of the digipack also tellingly shows the band reading from scores.)
In this respect, Butcher has created an extremely interesting, empathetic ensemble. There is a constant bed to the single, hour-long work, but it's ever-changing, rather like a waterbed. The strings of bass, harp and guzheng are dominant, electrified percussion from Lehn and Robair passes ethereally, and dieb13's interjections of alien voice and bits of "actual" music are refreshing, contextualizing the sound as something abstract but very worldly. Butcher, as the only horn player here, shows enormous restraint while getting to display his considerably wide syntax. Big band minimal improv rarely works as satisfyingly as this.
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