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Butcher / Müller / van der Schyff - Way Out Northwest

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Artist: Butcher / Müller / van der Schyff

Album: Way Out Northwest

Label: Drip Audio

Review date: Mar. 18, 2008

Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Butcher spent several years assiduously stripping jazz from his vocabulary. While his time of simple stylistic opposition is well past – these days he’s far too engaged in doing what he does to worry about what not to do – the mind still reels at the notion of him responding to Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West. And yet, here he is, 50 years after Rollins taped that epochal session, playing with a double bassist and a drummer in a room located one affordable cab ride from the Western ocean’s salt air.

When it comes to sound and dynamics, the two records share no common ground. While Rollins had not yet settled into the magisterial posture of subsequent decades (that mostly requires his rhythm section to clear the way, then stay out of the way), he did relate to Ray Brown and Shelly Manne in a fairly conventional fashion, occasionally trading licks with one or the other for a bar or two, but mostly riding their rhythms. Butcher’s aesthetic, on the other hand, holds each player co-responsible for the music’s direction; all hands on the wheel, all the time. Each man’s ears are tuned to moment-to-moment minutiae, aware of how the others’ sounds change the character of their own. The writhing ribbon of striated sound that flows from Torsten Müller’s bowed strings on “Häufig eine hydraulische Metaphertendenz,” the opening segment of this concert recording, would not necessarily be incomplete without Butcher’s steady stream of soprano multiphonics and Dylan van der Schyff’s uncharacteristically shy stick clicks, but it certainly wouldn’t sound the same. And each sound seems to adjust the flow of the others like sub-atomic particles in an electron microscope shifting the location of that which they observe.

And yet there is a sense of stretching oneself that recalls the spirit of Way Out West. When it was recorded, a session without a pianist raised questions about what happened to him on the way to the studio; Rollins stretched the jazz envelope and challenged himself by intentionally playing without a keyboard. Van der Schyff (a poly-stylist with no aversion to swinging) and Butcher have played together, even recorded together before. But the addition of a bassist does push the saxophonist closer to potential jazz territory; he tests his capacity to stay original just as much as Rollins did back in the day.

The name does invite another connotation. The uncompromising otherness of Butcher’s sonic vocabulary makes it easy to get hung up on his ‘way out-ness’; it can take a while to come to grips with the necessity of his unusual sounds to his artistic ends. In other words, there’s nothing gratuitous about his music. It’s supposed to sound the way it does, sometimes bracingly complex but never simply busy, other times simple but not at all simplistic.

By Bill Meyer

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