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John Butcher & Gino Robair - New Oakland Burr

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Artist: John Butcher & Gino Robair

Album: New Oakland Burr

Label: Rastascan

Review date: Feb. 6, 2005

English saxophonist John Butcher and Bay area percussionist Gino Robair are both devotees of unusual sounds. The former uses extended techniques and judiciously applied amplification to harness avian twitters, fluid plops and radiophonic peals, while the latter employs a handful of mostly repurposed items (ebow snare, cymbals, motor, toy reed, Styrofoam, faux dax) to obtain an impressively broad range of rustles, squeaks and groans.

But neither man seeks novelty for its own sake – their strange sounds accomplish striking musical effects. On “Slug Tag,” commingled tenor and cymbal cries impart an accumulating sense of apprehension, while on the ensuing “Tucking,” Butcher’s sighing feedback blips and cackles evoke a nameless but palpable tenderness. The focus of this latest chapter in the duo’s ongoing collaboration is rapid response; the album’s 16 tracks last just over 40 minutes. Like audio commandos, they make something happen instantly within a circumscribed audio zone, then effect a hasty withdrawal.

Sometimes one player matches the other sympathetically; on the aptly titled “Whine Model,” ear-lancing pitches intertwine like a physician’s serpent and staff. Elsewhere contrast rules. Robair’s woofer-confounding drum head moans on the magnificently titled “Throat Rust” throb far below the two men’s debating reeds, like a submerged manatee drifting below the surface of a lagoon with no concern for the rioting terns that chatter in the air above.

While it’s a blast to hear Robair and Butcher make their mark within a minute, New Oakland Burr includes a welcome handful of performances that last over three minutes. These serve to remind that their empathic dialogue is founded on dogged evolution as well as sparking intuition.

By Bill Meyer

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