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tempestuous - the contest of pleasures (butcher / charles / dorner) return to   catalogue

“Having used extensive editing and some remixing for the second of their two excellent Potlatch CDs, Albi Days, The Contest of  Pleasures returns to its initial acoustic position with Tempestuous, which launches the new British label, Another Timbre.   Recorded late on a stormy November night in an old church, Tempestuous moves between the poles of calm and urgency that the setting might suggest.  It even documents the ambient rattles of the building.  There’s something marvellous about a performance by this group.  Each musician has an achieved purity of sound (suggesting the bel canto of a sine tone), so that he might stand as a model of what soprano, trumpet or clarinet should sound like.   Each musician has also explored the sonic potential of his instrument to the point where there are moments that might be attributable to any one of them -- finger taps and air passing through a column become central events.  One notable aspect of their work is the exploration of beat patterns, the sounds that  arise as two pitches move toward unison, so that there are sounds that can’t be said to arise from any one of the three.  At one point  or another, each player approaches the specific glissando of a siren, doing so in the midst of sustained long tones.  The result suggests an Arvo Pärt score with air-raid hardware. The sum total is an ineffable masterpiece, an unusual collocation of the original and beautiful.”     

                                                                                                 -    Stuart Broomer, Point of Departure

‘These three musicians work together so sublimely to transcend the limitations of our soundworld that it is not ncongruous that a church should be their performance space.  Their concert at the 2006 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival took place in the old St.Thomas’ church.  For over fifty minutes in the hour before midnight on 20th November the church resonated with a music which gently mocked their name and questioned even the nature of the instruments themselves.  Between silence and voluminous drones a wind music emerged befitting such a trinity, though with the devil in its detail.  Without electronic manipulation the focus of the hour’s music was more the nature of sound itself.  The sound spectrum was stretched and widened using distinctive playing techniques which Butcher, Charles and Dorner extended further with siren-like glissandi and full-throated sounds.  Dissonant noises of course occurred in abundance, with the expected but nevertheless puzzling pops, roars, gurgles, grumblings and wild shrill tones.  As on Prospero’s island, the performance space was filled with “noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.  Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices…”  

                                                                                                        -  Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy        


“The title of  this 51 minute improvisation refers to the weather buffeting and rattling the windows of the church where the gig took place.  The trio lapse into silence in several places, which must have been particularly effective ‘live’, as the sounds generated by the wind outside would have been even more noticeable.  The resultant performance mediates between art and nature, human and natural agencies, adding an extra level of engagement.   At the ‘micro’ end of the improvising spectrum, Butcher is associated with a virtuosic ability to produce sound from the saxophone by every conceivable means:  a forensic, almost obsessive exploration of every possible effect, like pad-popping, and slapping, sucking and kissing sounds.  But at the ‘macro’ level, he has a preoccupation with using his instruments to test and exploit the acoustic characteristics of the performance space, which is perhaps more interesting.  All three musicians travel both these roads, but there are other approaches too, including each of them holding long tones, so that the ‘beat’ of the sound becomes more prominent as the frequencies merge and collide.   For me the test of good music is that, regardless of its degree of abstraction, it pleases and holds the attention moment to moment while providing a deeper satisfaction through a - perhaps illusory - sense of structure.  Tempestuous ticks all these boxes.”

                                                                                                     -   Barry Witherden, The Wire

“Butcher,  Charles, and Dörner have been playing together as a trio for close to a decade now.  Tempestuous is  their third release, and their second live recording. Captured at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the recording provides an intimate view of these masters.  All three take an elemental view of their instruments;  they each strip things down to the conical bore of brass or wood, the mechanical valves and keypads, or the vibrating striations of mouthpiece and reed, and build back up from there.   Having heard them live, they know how to play to a given room, measuring the acoustics and physical space and carefully gauging their use of attack and decay accordingly.  They can stretch their instruments to extremes, but they are also comfortable letting pure tones slip  in, whether popped tenor notes, quavering trumpet, or long woody clarinet  hues.  Their improvisation is defined by an unhurried sense of arc with accumulated sonic events separated by pools of silence.  Tensions are built and released as the three make waves of skirled textures and burred breaths.  As the piece moves toward its hushed conclusion, they have created a palpable sense of the collective process of shaping sound and silence into spontaneous form.”  

                                                                                                -  Michael Rosenstein, Signal to Noise  

“From a very provocative new label comes the third release from this timbre-happy trio.  I’ve been a fan since their first disc and it’s refreshing to know they’re still at it, pushing the boundaries of contemporary Euro free improv until it intersects with electroacoustics.  The restless slur of Dorner’s trumpet contrasts so vividly with the woody burr of Charles’ clarinet and the otherwordly buzz of Butcher’s horns.  Glissing, portamento, and other effects are heard here and there, and sometimes (as on the tail end of “1”) the music lifts gracefully in a kind of birdsong (as it does again on “7”).  But this is mostly a music of carefully modified laminations, whose surface stillness contains within it multitudes of excellent, at times even thrilling dynamic range (from sudden swells to unexpected dives into silence). When listening to the extremely subtle breath noises coaxed forth on “3,” the tiny squeaks and grumbles on “4,” or the wonderful pitch-bending in pure horn sonorities on “6,” it’s almost like listening to musical cartographers map out an alien territory. Excellent.”            -    Jason Bivens,  Cadence

“It is hardly necessary to introduce 'The Contest of Pleasures'.  The reputation of this splendid trio has deservedly grown since their debut cd on Potlatch.  If the first disc was recorded in a  chapel, this third chapter uses the more spacious acoustic of a church.   Perhaps it is this architectural setting which gives the impression of a more dedicated statement than before, and reveals more sensitively the contrasts of their work.  Ethereal yet rough, patient yet swift, there develops an affectionate exploration of material which is interlaced, spun and stretched; music which is both aerial and floral.  And music which is always also beautiful.”   

                                                                                                -  Guillaume Tarche, Improjazz

“I see the three musicians as being like architects who use their instruments with great confidence to design a project consisting of curves, ellipses, and parts of circular forms...... When I listen to the music I hear three great instrumentalists who complement each other perfectly in improvisation.”    -  Piotr Tkacz, nowamuzyka


“The album’s title was inspired by the weather conditions (“wet and blowy”, as per the liners’ description).  This didn’t prevent the trio from executing a scintillating performance, characterized by everything we’d expect from three musicians who would sound majestically restrained, hugely silent, delicately violent even in a locker room.   The basis of this collaboration is a like-minded explorative analysis of the vibrational patterns created by air as it is compressed, interrupted, or tongued through a reed/brass conduit.  Single notes have a unique manner of rubbing against silence, looking for their counterparts to join and establish a three-way sonic exploration, as if self-governing pitches and harmonics enforced the avoidance of an excess of linearity.  The most impressive feature of this music resides in the sudden surges, the glissando passages from hush to over-acute stridency, the ebb and flow of structures which a hypothetical microscope would reveal as particularly complex.  Yet it sounds exactly the opposite, the artists searching for sweet spots in camerae obscurae where the exhilarating promiscuousness of dissonant contiguity becomes the very reason for the overheating of our neurons, in desperate need of divergent stimuli for at least two centuries.   Let researchers go on, though: maybe the next time they will finally  realise that words are useless.   Meanwhile, Butcher, Charles and Dörner have once again shown us the  right path to a full understanding of the otherwise inexplicable phenomena of essential resonance.”                                                                        -  Massimo Ricci,  Touching Extremes  

“These musicians are seriously innovative and visionary, not afraid of taking risks, or of travelling the crooked and twisted road belonging to the improvised music.   The result is an extremely exciting and interesting listening experience that will keep your attention thanks to this trio’s incredible sense of interaction.  There is nothing that sounds as if it was not meant to be - everything is very carefully considered and implemented.  This release is something out of the ordinary; rarely have I heard anything so exciting, different and innovative.”        

                                                                                              -  Henrik Kaldahl,  Jazznet Denmark


Tempestuous  explores the quieter end of the free-improv spectrum, though unlike some electroacoustic improv recordings, this still sounds unmistakably like the work of human beings.  The players interact not through conventional dialogue but through soft drones and drifting chorales, in which narrowly-separated pitches rub up against each other in slow motion, and the results suggest electronic music played on acoustic instruments.   At times the music becomes louder and more active, a kind of postapocalyptic Dixieland, as hushed gabbles blossom into incredibly stretched-out polyphonic wails.  The languid pace makes it hard to hear Tempestuous as a continuous piece rather than isolated pools of activity.  But it’s nonetheless music of extraordinary, lunar beauty, whose frequent moments of Cagean silence are broken by the roaring gales outside the building. “                                                                       -  Nate Dorward,  Coda                  


at 01     tempestuous

the contest of pleasures

John Butcher  saxophones

Xavier Charles  clarinet

Axel Dörner   trumpet

recorded live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival,

November 2006

total time:  51:09

youtube extract

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