Tradition, it would appear to the musicians of Witches Butter, is a wonderful reality. Just as important is not withstanding that the inner dynamic of tradition is always to innovate, is prison. This is what seems to drive the restless music of reeds and winds specialist Sebastian Strinning, guitarist Manuel Troller and, of course, the drummer-wizard-in-chief Gerry Hemingway on their maiden voyage, Tree Ear. The uniquely powerful and beautiful, and defiantly provocative repertoire on this album has been chiselled from the bedrock of Jazz and free-improvised music together with the Austro-German music in the epic, Wagnerian tradition. But while that might suggest a pastiche of archetypal contemporary models, the musicians actually force the listener to reconsider what tradition really is, song after song.
The musicians of Witches Butter position themselves in creative conflict with each other as they tear down contemporary protocols about how trio music is made between horns, strings and percussion, reconvening time and again to initiate unique and interesting discussions about how three-way contrapuntal conversations might work. By actively throwing aboard melodic, structural, harmonic and rhythmic books that have become expressively blunted through overuse, the musicians build from what might – or might not – be left. This instinctive radicalism that exists between Mr Hemingway, Mr Strinning and Mr Troller has made not only the musicianship of these three bedfellows, but also this music a source of endless wonderment, even if it might stray into controversy from time to time. Yet if what might seem like absurdist gestures of a bowed guitar and the sensual moaning of the tenor saxophone on “Range of Hands” it is just as dramatic as the sublime and agitatedly ticking motor rhythms from tongue-ing the reed and the authentic beauty of the music that this leads to.
Definitions of molten music are central to the music of this disc as are suggestions of elemental wind, thunder – especially in the subtle engaging of the bass drum with the surreptitious entry of the bass clarinet on “Third Man Walking”. Things get busier and more frenetic, urgent and – naturally – more exciting as the music progresses, reaching a feverish pitch for all three musicians on “Witches Butter”, understandably so as this where the musicians make their richest and most active pitch for the music of this disc. This track is a masterpiece of a map of modernist improvised music complete with cracked rhythms, a screeching, moaning strings and a scratchy, honking and growling horn all of which heralds the kind of existential angst that is both a depressing and elevating depiction of modern human conversation which, in turn, highlights the kind and levels of social and political discourse that characterises the society to which the musicians come from as well as are locked in eternal conflict with. Tree Ear is easily one of the best contemporary recordings – one to absolutely die for…
Track list – 1: Range of Hands; 2: Third Man Walking; 3: Witches Butter; 4: Big Blind; 5: Drag Light; 6: Kill Button; 7: Reraise
Personnel – Sebastian Strinning: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Manuel Troller: guitar; Gerry Hemingway: drums and voice
Released – 2018
Label – Clean Feed (CF438CD)
Runtime – 42:07