John Butcher, Toshimaru Nakamura – Dusted MachineryFebruary 25, 2012
Just a couple of great musicians improvising…
Tonight’s CD is another new release on the Monotype label, a set of four three year old studio recordings by Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) and John Butcher (soprano, tenor and feedback sax) named Dusted Machinery. Neither of these musicians need any introductions here, and the chances of this album being anything other than pretty damned good to my ears were never going to be high. So in many ways, all this review is likely to do is give me the opportunity to wax lyrical about how fine these two musicians are and how much I have enjoyed sitting listening to this album over the past few days.
I’m not certain when Dusted Machinery was recorded. The sleeve notes suggest March 2009, at Dave Hunt’s studio in London, and certainly Toshi was in the country around that time for the Instal event in Glasgow, but Butcher’s website suggests that the recordings took place a year later when the duo worked together on one of David Sylvian’s projects. I suspect the latter to be the case, with the pair also playing as part of a bill I caught at Café Oto around the same time. This isn’t their first recorded outing, with Nakamura joining Butcher on the second half of the saxophonist’s 2002 recorded album Caverns with Nightlife. The music here is full on, fiery improv. Not necessarily of the busy, talkative style but music that feels like it is burning its way out of the speakers, flooding into the room like a toxic gas. We hear Toshi in his searing, vicious mode of much of the time here, letting rip screams of feedback that seem to violently wrench themselves out of silence and then hold their position while Butcher scrabbles and wails and rasps his way over the top of them. The way the duo work together, finding pitches that compliment yet shake their partner’s, upping the ante via bursts of volume here and there, cutting things dead into silence elsewhere is wonderful to involve yourself with. The music feels like it is forming in the air around you, like two gasses blending and reacting midway between the speakers. You never forget the instruments being used. While often the two sets of sounds combine and hang together for a while they always peel apart again, electronics and reeds easily distinguishable as two separate voices and yet without each other they would be meaningless. During the latter stages of the opening Leaven quite extraordinary shapes are thrown into the air as the two match each other with searing high pitches, Butcher eventually pulling out of the tussle as man gives in to machine and Nakamura’s electronic scream wins out like some kind of robot arm wrestler defeating its human opponent through relentless pressure.
This is intense, vibrant music recorded brilliantly vividly by the exceptional Mr Hunt. While both of these musicians have contributed to some great group albums down the years I think I prefer them both in duo formations, allowing their sounds to really be foregrounded rather than moving backwards as accompaniments, leaving them naked and left to fend for themselves up against such formidable companionship. Its a huge pleasure for me to put this CD on, turn the volume up and engage with the musical conversation. I don’t have much more to say. This is what good improvised music is all about for me and I’m not sure its capable of getting much better.