The duo of British sax player John Butcher and Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg has been working together since 2015, and occasionally expanded with guests (the quartet Stray with fellow-British guitarist John Russel and double bass player Dominic Lash, «Into Darkness», Illuso, 2017, the trio with British electronics player Pat Thomas, «Fictional Souvenirs», Astral Spirits, 2019, and the trio with Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, «At Kafé Hærverk», Weight of Wax, 2020). In November 2018 the Butcher / Solborg duo was booked for a double bill performance with American. French-based double bass master Barre Phillips, who was launching his new ECM solo «End to End» (2018), at Offene Ohren in Münich. The unscheduled trio set proved to be illuminating and the trio reconvened next August at the Blow Out Festival in Oslo.
«We meet – and then» is a meeting of three generations of imaginative free-improvisers – Phillips, who is credited with the first solo double bass album, «Journal Violone» (1968) will be 87 years old this year. Butcher is 67 years old and Solborg is 42 years old. These highly experienced improvisers are sonic alchemists, always thinking timbrally and tonally, and determined to liberate their instruments from common sonic conceptions.
Phillips, Butcher and Solborg are also deep listeners, attentive to any touch, vibration and breath of their comrades. The opening piece, the 18-minute of «- and then» demonstrates these qualities and flows naturally, in its own accord, and this trio shapes and shifts its poetic conversation with attempts to suggest enlightening sonic ambiguity. The dark, deep tones of Phillips’ double bass melt organically into Butcher’s ethereal drones, and Butcher’s hums and bird-calls resonate into the fragmented rhythmic patterns of Solborg, who feeds, in his turn, intuitive rhythmic ideas to Phillips. Occasionally, all gravitate into sudden and tense, percussive gestures, but most of the time maintain a sparse, chamber and lyrical atmosphere. The following «Zero Tolerance» maintains the sparse interplay but highlights the breadth of the sonic palette of this trio and its subversive but game-like dynamics. The last piece from the Blow Out Festival, «Chaudron Profond», is more melancholic and introspective. Phillips’ patient arco work is mirrored by Butcher’s breaths and overtones, while Solborg adds delicate comments on the drums’ skins, but suddenly this improvisation blossoms into an intense rhythmic dance.
Phillips opens the pieces from Offene Ohren with a most beautiful and lyrical bass solo «Travelling». Butcher and Solborg demonstrate again their immediate, almost telepathic and always surprising dynamics on the following «Vivid Inkling». The trio plays on «We met -» and as on the previous pieces, it takes its time, playing with sounds, and shaping and twisting its loose dynamics with a remarkable poetic sense of time and space.
Barre Phillips (b), John Butcher (s), Ståle Liavik Solberg (dr)