John Butcher and the Portuguese Red Trio present a fiery conception of free jazz on their new album Summer Skyshift. Butcher holds some level of control as the main source of melody screaming over top of the fast paced soundscape of his companions. On more subdued tracks, the Red trio follows Butcher into more ambient territories where his scratchy extended techniques suggest a minimalist surrounding. The group doesn’t dwell anywhere for too long making contrast the name of the game.
The first installment on the album serves as a good example of the ensemble’s ability to manipulate dynamicism through large ups and downs of energy. A certain punchiness is present from the very start leading into a fast paced massive ensemble sound before leading into quite, drone-like territories to transition into the second song. “Track 1.2” begins in ambient territory with scratchy sax playing accompanied by careful cymbol work and spacey piano playing under Butcher’s growl. As the album moves forward, more time is devoted to relatively specific sound styles. The second song is essentially the quiet number. Third comes with a lot of activity especially from Rodrigo Pinheiro’s piano with the final piece serving as one final build-up.
One of the successes of the album lies in it’s wide dynamic range. Skipping around to various part of the record would uncover a lot of different sound ideas. Butcher has a large wheelhouse of extended technique, which gives him a certain charisma as he can communicate in interesting ways with each member of the ensemble. In one particularly capturing moment, drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro drop out leaving Butcher alone with bassist Hernani Faustino to hold a fascinating musical conversation. Faustino seems to have a very deep understanding of Butcher making for a quick collection of ideas bouncing off of each player.
There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this record. It’s well executed with enough contrast to entertain from throughout, yet it remains hard to say what the life-line of the album is. Aesthetically, the album does little to “chance the game.” Also, it is hard to say that this type of record could not have been released 10-20 years ago. Perhaps the mentality of “there’s nothing wrong with it” means it doesn’t take enough risks to warrant deep listening. I’m definitely intrigued by my first listen and more time will decide how invested I am in the project.