Free improv is often a do or die proposition, musicians in tight dialogue with, or viscious argument against, one another. On Carliol Rhodri Davies and John Butcher delve intensely into the former approach, demonstrating a close understanding of one another’s working methods, and the end result of musical dialogue, their gestures spinning off into myriad engaging digressions.
While Carliol is their debut duet recording Davies and Butcher have been playing together since 1997, so their intimacy is no surprise. Nor is their mastery over their instruments. Here Davies plays pedal harp, lever harp with embedded speaker, electric harp and Aeolian electric harp, with Butcher on tenor and soprano saxophones, feedback, motors, and embedded harp speaker, but you’re often hard-pressed to determine the specific sound sources, not that I imagine many are familiar with the ‘standard’ tones afforded such instruments. Electronics and extended technique are commonplace in today’s improv lexicon, but Butcher and Davies display a particular knack for obscuring their instruments, bleeding the line between string and brass, often with wind, until they resemble one another. The dominant mood is subdued and unhurried, close pings, squeaks and taps flexing and crinkling like a slow moving river. Lengthier pieces ‘Pandon Bank’ and ‘Ouse Poppy’ are particularly impressive, defined by a measured elasticity, both musicians contributing equally to the loosely woven compositional fabric. Closer ‘Distant Leaves’ features Butcher overdubbing his part and is the only instance of disharmony, albeit intentionally delivered, and it comes across as a welcome wake-up call to the passive listener. The recording quality is superlative, and the mass of sonic detail emitted from these duellists never less than rivetting.