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The Contest of Pleasures

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Album Review

The Contest of Pleasures documents the work of one of the most interesting and avant-gardist free improv trios of the turn of the century. British saxophonist John Butcher, French clarinetist Xavier Charles, and German trumpeter Axel Dörner were following somewhat similar artistic paths. They were all involved in free improvisation and, during the 1990s, all turned to a minimal approach on their respective instrument, stripping out the chops to concentrate on breathing, acoustics, polyphonic drones, and such. This trio premiered at Vandoeuvre Musique Action Festival in May 1999. The Contest of Pleasures is the recording of their second concert, at the Jazz à Mulhouse Festival in August 2000. The chapel was the perfect setting for this kind of music: The natural reverberation becomes part of the creative process, as the musicians test it to various degrees during the first minutes of the set. The three instruments blend together, often becoming impossible to identify. Slow drones succeed to delicate tongue work or key/piston clicks. Dörner focuses on breathing through the trumpet. It may sound unappealing in words, but to the listener's surprise this approach, when used by such skilled musicians, produces organic music matter, a captivating living organism. The absence of any electronics is another marvel, since some of the textures and sounds achieved land very close to contemporary electronic experimentations. Although not as striking as when it is experienced live, this music is simply beautiful — but one must listen very closely with the volume level set high. ~ François Couture, Rovi


Born: 25 October 1954 in Brighton, Sussex, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Despite the fact that British saxophonist John Butcher came relatively late to free improvisation, his highly personal sound turned him into one of the key sax players of the late '90s onward. A very busy schedule and an impressive number of music associates have given him the exposure he needed to build a strong following among avant-garde music fans. Drawing from the techniques of Evan Parker and the philosophy of Derek Bailey, he freed his playing of unnecessary stamina to open new directions...
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