John Butcher - Bell Trove Spools
(Northern Spy NSCD 032. CD Review by Rob Edgar)
Bell Trove Spools is the new solo album by saxophonist John Butcher. Each of the ten tracks was recorded as a single take in two sessions: in Richmond Hall in Houston in 2010 and in Brooklyn in 2011.
The album has many compositional and aesthetic forbears; in A Place to Start, with the aid of multiphonics, Butcher presents us - there may be analogies to his work as a theoretical physicist and his understanding of the very small - with harmony based on Ligeti-infused micropolyphony. The distance between the notes can be miniscule and often result in beat waves pummelling your eardrums as the frequencies buzz and hum frantically around the centre pitch.
In the contemplative ninth track,Fourth Dart Butcher takes collections of pitches, some superhuman lung power and, using notes that are shared by some of his “scales” as pivot points, slips delicately and seamlessly through the mesh of several melodic nets, reminiscent of Russian Composer Alexander Scriabin who got the ball rolling a little over a hundred years ago with his ‘mystic chord’.
The essence of Sofia Gubaidulina also graces this album at times; First Dart starts off with a timid and almost unassertive statement of an E diminished triad but as the piece grows the distance between the intervals get slowly but consistently larger. There is no definitive end to the track however, as the notes simply disappear into the ether of the reverberant Issue Project Room in Brooklyn where it was recorded.
Aesthetically, the spirit of John Cage shines through on this album, in the key clicks of Willow Shiver or the distorted fog-horn type sound in Unspeakable Damage.
What emerges from Bell Trove Spools is the full picture of a musician at the peak of his powers, delighting in the very concept of sound. The best thing that can happen is for the listener simply to become immersed in his delicate, hypnotic and meditative sound-world.