Johnny Butler – Thirteen Dances
Brooklyn-based saxophonist Johnny Butler delivers an experimental new album, Thirteen Dances, nearly all of them performed solely on a saxophone through a series of effects that transform the horn into a choir of alien voices.
The result sounds more like an organ than a sax, recalling the ethereal textures of Alice Coltrane, at once urban and otherworldly as listeners are drawn into New York City by night. I Heart NY evokes the noise of New York traffic, while No Ice Cream (the three most disappointing words in the English language) echoes Bernard Herrmann’s theme from Taxi Driver.
That this is all achieved using only a saxophone and some effects is remarkable, the way Butler interacts with his own playing reminiscent of Bill Evans’s 1963 album Conversations with Myself – except where Evans was overdubbing his piano parts, Butler is playing in real time, laying down sustained bass notes and dancing elegantly over the top.
That said, Thirteen Dances lacks the variety of the Evans record, the thick textures becoming drone-like over an entire album (but making a striking one-off addition to a playlist). Another instrument would cut through the fog and give Butler another voice to bounce off – though since this interpersonal element of jazz has been shut down by the pandemic, this sense of solitude might be the whole point. Either way it comes almost as a relief to hear the formula disrupted by the final tracks; Magical Evergreen introduces a piano and what sounds like someone doing the washing up, before Glinka lets us hear the saxophone without the effects, allowing Butler’s melody to shine unmodulated.
Thirteen Dances is dreamy, ambient and evocative, and to listen to it is to picture the scene and the dancers that Butler is accompanying; a singular vision that is impressively bold but possibly also limiting.
Thirteen Dances is released on 12th March 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Johnny Butler’s website here.