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John Butcher - News from the Shed

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Artist: John Butcher

Album: News from the Shed

Label: Emanem

Review date: Nov. 5, 2006

Originally issued on John Butcher’s Acta label in 1989, this is an extremely valuable – and wonderfully creative – reissue. Featuring an intense, attentive quintet – Butcher on tenor and soprano, Phil Durrant on violin and electronics, Paul Lovens on percussion and saw, Radu Malfatti on trombone, and the marvelous John Russell on acoustic guitar – this is as good as it gets for London improv during this period.

The music doesn’t simply barrel forward carelessly, though it does have periods where the momentum is overwhelming: listen to the fairly hot “Mean Time” and “Weaves,” with even the reserved Russell slashing away. But the players also don’t simply dot and dash with no sense of larger purpose, even though their restraint and economy impress. Rather, the sound morphs and changes color consistently, in a five-part conversation that is both coherent and surprising. Particularly delightful is the contrast between the horns (shifting between Butcher’s sputter and Malfatti’s garrulous chortles, so different from his self-effacing play these days) and the foundation of strings and percussion. The contrast is really pointed on the brief “The Gabdash,” where Russell – with intense choked harmonics – pinwheels between horn incisions, and on “Reading the River,” an essay in attack, decay and elongation where Butcher’s held tones frame the pointillism from Lovens and the subtle Durrant. And of course, there are plenty of passages that brim with gorgeous abstract textures, as on “Everything Stops for Tea” (with its intense soprano trilling) and “Whisstrionics” (where Lovens’ intense saw cuts through the mix).

For music so deliberate and often reserved, there is an awful lot of exuberance and exhilaration here. And, as is customary for Emanem reissues, the initial session is padded out with additional tracks (here four extra slices, adding up to an extra twenty minutes, from the same session). Wonderful stuff, an essential reissue for improv fans.

By Jason Bivins

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