Sten Sandell Trio+ John Butcher:Strokes

Bob Burnett: Continuing with my fascination with Lisbon-based label Clean Feed, I recently fell under the spell of Strokes. Sten Sandell's piano leads this improvisational outing--along with bassist Johan Berthling (also part of the excellent electronica/ambient/accordion trio Tape) and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love and added guest saxophonist /electro-acoustic and feedback "player" John Butcher. Strokes is made up of three compositions--two 25+minute extended pieces ("Study" and "Unsteady") make up the main body of the album. Each is unique in its approach to exploration but are rooted in moments of quiet, tense, building energy with subtle shifts in texture and pulse. The separating and advancing factor in this music is the use of electronics and feedback. I am smitten with John Butcher's ability to expand the traditional range of the saxophone by adding new dimensions with the use of feedback usually associated with guitar. His whole sax becomes a sound device--the music "feels" like the entire sax is a contact mic, each touch becoming a new sound creation. Interspersed throughout are electronic squalls and burbles which add wonderfully to the sonic scape. Sandell's piano is clustered, engaged and intense; reminiscent of an expanded, spacious Cecil Taylor.
Granted, this session gets "out" and aggressive at times but that energy is earned; as a listener you are ramped into the intensity--not dropped into it and overwhelmed.

This is a fine work by a group that knows and experiences music beyond "jazz"--you can hear the roots of Cecil Taylor and Evan Parker here but also Sandell's other influences such as Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman and Derek Bailey. A highly recommended adventure--it's available as a download on emusic.com.

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