• 1. ROPELIGHT (30:13)
  • 2. FLICKER (06:04)
  • 3. GLOWSTICK (18:45)


Percussion – Mark Sanders
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – John Butcher

Following on from their highly acclaimed appearance on the TREADER DUOS CD, here is a whole CD devoted to the highly compatible and innovative duo of saxophonist John Butcher and percussionist Mark Sanders. Their varied improvisations are heard at two afternoon concerts - one at the 2010 Freedom of the City festival in London, the other nearly a year later at Southampton University. 55 minutes.

Excerpts from sleeve notes:
Although both Mark Sanders and John Butcher spent their teenage years in the London suburb of Petts Wood, they didn’t meet each other until the mid-80s. Their first musical encounter was at the home of Derek Bailey, and they have crossed paths frequently over the years since, but, for whatever reason, have seldom played together until recently. A handful of duo performances yielded just one brief document, a 25-minute set recorded at St. Giles-in-the-Fields church, London, in 2008, and subsequently released on the TREADER DUOS album.

This is a strange state of affairs, not just given the interconnectedness of the British community of improvising musicians within which they operate, but particularly since Sanders and Butcher are (as you can hear) so well suited. They are both meticulous and understated performers, whose improvisations express lifetimes of musical absorption with economy and expressive precision.
The thirty minutes of this album’s Ropelight was recorded at the annual Freedom of the City festival, at London’s Conway Hall. The hall is home to an ethical society that promotes the hall’s use as 'a hub for freedom of expression and progressive thought'. That makes it perfect, in conceptual terms at least, not just for an annual celebration of the freedom principle in music, but more specifically for the music of Butcher and Sanders, which exemplifies ideational clarity.

As they opened the second afternoon of the festival, light filtered through passing clouds and the partially occluded glass of the roof, and the duo was illuminated by a natural chiaroscuro that seemed to accentuate the music’s malleability. Hence DAYLIGHT, which might at first seem a curious title for an album of improvised music, which is usually considered a distinctly crepuscular exercise.
John Butcher recalls that people noticed the light changes, and tells me that the Southampton University performance was also a lunchtime concert. 'I liked this title,' he says, 'because I think the music of both concerts is quite luminous. There’s a certain unity to them. It was all daytime music. I think time of day has an effect on how one plays.'

At times Butcher made the acoustical properties of the Conway Hall resonate with the sound of his tenor. Of course this is something he’s renowned for, but I didn’t expect him to achieve it in this most sonically sedate of venues. He often thinks, he says, in terms of colour as much as of direct pitch, and experiences serial collaboration as an additive learning process that necessitates conceptual and technical malleability. You can hear that process at work in his playing with Mark Sanders, who is so in the moment that he seems almost egoless.

The duo’s progress through Ropelight is a slow morphogenesis, a sequence of various but consistently non-idiomatic changes. Sanders’ approach to the drums is purposeful but restrained, as he switches between drumsticks, brushes, brass bells and simple hand-pats to achieve the required degree of subtlety, always with a deft and musical sensibility and always maintaining clarity of purpose. I’ve heard few improvisations so elegantly managed.

But for all the expansive variegation of the journey through Ropelight, it taps only a fraction of the duo’s potentiality. The shorter, more concentrated performances from Southampton complement the London date beautifully. Throughout the rarefied but conceptually compacted Flicker, Butcher and Sanders are exclusively concerned with the flux of new sound relationships. It is only during Glowstick that the duo really comes close to evoking the 'fire music' that burns at the heart of so much free playing, particularly where drum duets are concerned. But even here, between intensities, the heat of the performance dissipates into exploratory, drawn out textures and harmonics.

Butcher and Sanders assiduously avoid the easy option of oblation to music’s past. Theirs is a novel syncretism of high drama and vivid musicality, their art continually recast in new light.

TIM OWEN (2012)

Album label: 
Release date: 
01.01 / 2012
Recording date: 
05.03 / 2010
Recording location: 
London (2010) & Southampton (2011)
Artwork design : Brian Bushell
Executive producer : Martin Davidson
Mastering engineer : Martin Davidson
Producer : John Butcher
Recording engineer : Sebastian Lexer & Rick Campion / Simon Reynell

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