Sunday, 6 October 2013

Review: John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / John Tilbury

John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / John Tilbury Exta (Fataka, 2013)

British upstarts Fataka have already amassed an impressive-looking catalogue of experimental musicians, boasting names such as Okkyung Lee, Matthew Shipp and Eddie Prévost, among others. Despite the prominence of these figures, Exta surely has to stand as the label's biggest release yet, in what is a meeting between three of the most celebrated artists in the world of free improvisation.

According to the label's website, 'exta were the organs of a sacrificed animal offered up to the gods - the lungs, heart, liver and gall bladder', and the five tracks here are named accordingly, albeit in Latin. It's difficult to find the musical connection to sacrificial rite on Exta, but perhaps it lies in the almost surgical precision of every sound that these musicians make. Precise improvisation may sound like an oxymoronic term, but in this case it's fully justified: Butcher, Lehn and Tilbury play off of each other so very well that the end result is frighteningly good.

There's a tension that runs throughout Exta, in a delicate balancing act between Butcher's writhing saxophone, Lehn's dry synthesizers and Tilbury's haunting piano. It's quite a spare assortment, but the recordings are never without occurrence, as the trio jump between eerie ambience, beautiful minimalism and unhinged chaos. As expected, the sonic palette of this album is fairly broad; the raspy slurping of Butcher's sax in "Cor", the trenchant piano in "Pulmo II" and the analogue bubbling of "Iecur" are just a few of the many intriguing sounds that are bought to the fold. The dynamism of Exta results in an ever-shifting, unpredictable experience, and as such it's a powerful, vital display from three of the very best in their field.

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