John Butcher | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

John Butcher 

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Soprano and tenor saxophonist John Butcher once explained in an interview with the Web zine Paris Transatlantic that he finds his material "right at the border of the instrument--the reed--seizing up and breaking down." Eschewing his horns' familiar vocabularies, the 48-year-old Englishman manipulates an arsenal of squeaks, squawks, and finely abraded staccato multiphonics. When he does resort to pure tones, he uses circular breathing to turn them into endlessly unfurling sonic ribbons. Despite working "on the edge of controllable sound" (as he also puts it), Butcher always seems in perfect control of his instruments. On Invisible Ear (Fringes), his fourth and latest solo record, Butcher treats the microphone no less harshly than he does his saxophones--not content to play into the thing, he overloads it by pushing it down his sax's bell. His screaming sound and guttural feedback on "A Controversial Fix For..." sound like Junior Wells gone atonal, and if Derek Bailey were to play gamelan music using guitar harmonics he might come up with something like the carefully sculpted "Streamers." Butcher also thrives in the company of like-minded musicians: his shrieks, rustles, and groans mesh so well with those of percussionist Gino Robair and koto player Miya Masaoka, the Bay Area improvisers who join him on Guerrilla Mosaics (482 Music), that it's hard to tell who's responsible for what. Here he'll play with a pair of locals, percussionist Glenn Kotche and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Wednesday, March 26, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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