John Butcher

Butcher is well known as a saxophonist who attempts to engage with the uniqueness of time and place. His music ranges through improvisation, his own compositions, multitracked pieces and explorations with feedback and unusual acoustics. Since the early 80s he has collaborated with hundreds of musicians – including Derek Bailey, Rhodri Davies, Andy Moor (EX), Phil Minton, Christian Marclay, Eddie Prevost, John Stevens’ SME, Gino Robair, Polwechsel, Mark Sanders, John Tilbury, and Okkyung Lee.

Alongside long term projects he values occasional encounters; from large groups such as the EX Orkestra & Butch Morris’ “London Skyscraper”, to duo concerts with Fred Frith, Akio Suzuki, Paal Nilssen-Love, Keiji Haino, David Toop, Otomo Yoshihide, Sophie Agnel and Matthew Shipp.

Recent compositions include “Penny Wands” for Futurist Intonarumori, two HCMF commissions for his own groups, “Good Liquor Caused my Heart for to Sing” for the London Sinfonietta and “Tarab Cuts”, a response to recordings of early Arabic classical music which was shortlisted for a 2014 British Composer’s Award.

“English saxophonist John Butcher may be among the world’s most influential musicians, operating at the cutting-edge of improvisatory practice since the ‘80s. Whenever an acoustic musician starts to sound like a bank of oscillators, a tropical forest, a brook or an insect factory, Butcher’s influence is likely nearby.” – New York City Jazz Record.

Featured releases

Keiji Haino, one of the foremost exponents of the Japanese avant-garde, always provides a masterclass in constantly shifting improvisation. John Butcher is a saxophonist of rare grace and power, who has expanded the vocabulary of the saxophone far beyond the conventions of jazz and other musics, to encompass a staggering range of multiphonics, overtones, percussive sounds, and electronic feedback. Haino and Butcher met when Butcher opened for Fushitsusha at the show Cafe OTO arranged at St. John, Hackney - 5 years ago. In 2016 they were invited to play two duo concerts – at The Empty Gallery in Hong Kong and at Cafe OTO in London. Otoroku is proud to present the audio documentation of their first UK meeting. Recorded live at Cafe OTO in July 2016 the results are an uncompromising milieu of swirling sound played out as a total union of these two legendary performers.  Haino’s blues drenched guitar entices skittering notes from Butcher’s sax playing as numerous sonic clues unravel over the course of of this unique and compelling journey. Light Never Bright Enough comes in a limited edition of 500 LPs and 500 CDs with matt sleeves and japanese removable obi-strip. --- Keiji Haino / vocal, guitar, flutes   John Butcher / saxophones and feedback --- Recorded live at Cafe OTO on the 9th July 2016 by Luca Consonni. Mixed by John Butcher. Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi. Photography and design by ORGAN. 

HAINO KEIJI / JOHN BUTCHER – LIGHT NEVER BRIGHT ENOUGH

The second recording made in a series of concerts at The Network Theatre, Waterloo, London, in which Eddie Prévost invited notable saxophonists to make music with him.  --- John Butcher / tenor and soprano saxophones Guillaume Viltard / double bass Eddie Prévost / drums  --- Recorded at the Network Theatre, Waterloo, London, on the 1st August 2011 by Giovanni Le Rovere. Mixing and editing by John Butcher. Cymbol photography by Tom Mills. Design my Myuh Chun.  --- Review in Point of Departure: The first part of the three-part suite opens up with tuned toms, and moves quickly into popping, lip-smacking sax and burbling pizzicato, making for a good old free jazz romp for starters. Amidst the nicely heated metal and woody thwacks, you can hear Butcher digging into some of his most audibly saxophonic playing (to call it conventional, even though there are lines and intervals, would be overstating things). But there’s also such a sheerly avian quality, at times evolving into a menacing spitfire, that you forget those previous passages altogether as overtones proliferate. There are also some extraordinary moments in the second part, where Butcher seems to reduce the soprano to pure whizzing sound, with no breaks in the sound, only a massive metallic whistle that occasionally boils down into burrs and grumbles. I have to confess that there are moments when (partly owing to his place in the mix) Vitard sounds a bit inconsequential; and in the hot exchanges to begin “part 3” it’s clear that the sympathy between Butcher and Prévost is where the action is. But thankfully the bassist subsequently proves me wrong with a truly sizzling arco solo – bold and confessional at once – midway through the 28-minute closing section.
– Jason Bivins

Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists Vol.2 - All But – John Butcher / Guillaume Viltard / Eddie Prévost

In ancient Roman religious ritual, exta were the organs of a sacrificed animal offered up to the gods - the lungs, heart, liver and gall bladder; here, Exta is a selection of four pieces (one in two parts) carefully extracted from a long studio session. "Butcher’s sax ranges from soft, whispery purrs to teeth-chatteringly spiteful blasts. Lehn’s analogue synth leaps in a moment from burbling tones to fiercely sizzling abstraction, and Tilbury slips from his familiar melodic interludes and fragmented arpeggios to crashing, seismic attacks on the inside of the piano. What sets this album head and shoulders above similar offerings is the understanding between the trio. It’s not just the way all three move together as one from subdued lull to explosive rupture, but how each pushes at the others, stopping the music from settling into routine. Throughout the two-part “Pulmo”, each of the trio takes the opportunity to wrench the music from one direction to another with a sudden attack just as it settles into a plateau. More than a routine outing for three old heads, Exta is as vibrant, powerful and testing as anything we have heard from any of them in a while, which in itself makes it an essential addition to Improv’s history. " - Richard Pinnell, The Wire  "This gloriously unhurried, constantly shifting music—each dynamic stimulus tempered by currents of textural stasis, notably on the initial stretch of 'lecur'—resists summation. It is an enthralling, exemplary piece of work." - Tim Owen, Dalston Sound --- John Butcher / saxophones  Thomas Lehn / synthesizers  John Tilbury / piano  --- Recorded by Rick Campion at City University Music Studios on 25 June 2012. Mixed by Thomas Lehn. Mastered by Rupert Clervaux at Gray’s Inn Road. Photograph by Andy Moor (The Ex) Music by John Butcher (PRS), Thomas Lehn (GEMA) & John Tilbury (PRS) 

Butcher / Lehn / Tilbury – Exta

Forthcoming events

Monday 24 June 2024

John Butcher / Sharon Gal / John Edwards

£14 £12 Advance £7 MEMBERS

Thursday 4 July 2024

Anthony Moore trio OBTRAM3 + FRIENDS – "The Fall of America III (grat. A Ginsberg)"

£16 £14 Advance £8 MEMBERS

Sunday 7 July 2024

LAST DREAM OF THE MORNING (John Butcher / Mark Sanders / John Edwards)

£14 £12 Advance £7 MEMBERS

Past events