Limited edition of 300
Out on December 12, 2021
John Russell: guitar
John Butcher: saxophones
Dominic Lash: double bass
Recorded by Jim McEwan at GIO Fest III, CCA, Glasgow, December 10, 2010
Mixed and mastered by John Butcher
Artwork and design by Cathy Fishman
Liner Notes by Neil Davidson
I wasn't sure what to write so I started writing a letter to get a bit of flow going. You asked me to write about the recording you made with John Russell and John Butcher at the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra Festival 2010. I remember you and I spent months working out how to get the three of you up to Glasgow and that had been our solution. Recalling that is in turn a reminder of the hours we've both spent arranging tours and pulling together both tenuous and well established connections to make such things work over the years. Earlier in 2010 the skies emptied because of the volcano in Iceland but I managed to cross Europe regardless thanks to just those connections.
One of the other sets at that festival involved me playing with Aileen Campbell and Nick Fells, performing a piece where we wrote down in advance what we thought would happen in the performance, then we passed those instructions on in series; reading them as scores. I only mention that now because the task of writing about your improvisation after the fact stumped me for a while and I wonder what sort of block that is. Writing prior to improvisation feels somehow easier, now I think about it.
I prefer the promise that there will be improvisation over the report that there has been improvisation. It's there in the etymology of the word. And I was pleased to be able to say yes to the promise of the three of you travelling north for that performance. Which I would happily do again, even though that is now a deeply felt impossibility.
John Russell's presence and absence hangs in the notes throughout the recording. His clusters of notes picking out the geometry between you and John Butcher sound like descriptions of connections to me; coming from that particular binding gesture you can make in improvisation where the sound you play is there to connect more than to be out there on its own. The guitar is often a reflective instrument, you tend to gaze down at it, cradling it in your lap (if you're a sit down player, especially) and at the same time it resonates intimately at a volume supportive to the voice; it has a companionable quality. That is the abiding impression I have of John's playing; that he was hosting by way of playing.
What are you doing these days? A lot of what I've described above doesn't really happen any more because of the disease. Maybe it will come back. In the meantime I took a moment to imagine a performance by you and John Butcher and John Russell happening where I live now, in one of the village halls where you're more likely to hear ceòl mòr or win a raffle prize, or hear Gaelic songs inciting violence, organised alphabetically, from the 14th century. It feels like a question of going where the listening is good and the listening is good here. I chose to live where the music is connected at a deep level to hospitality and I'm glad to have found that in John Russell's playing and to be reminded of it now.
All the best,
Guitarist John Russell, a leading figure on Britain's improvised music scene, passed away on January 19, 2021. Born in December 1954, Russell started performing improvised music in London in his late teens, and for many years he toured and gave concerts not only in the UK and Europe but throughout the world. Known as a Japanophile, Russell traveled to Japan for the first time in 2001, and subsequently visited the country many times, including as recently as 2018 and 2019.
British sax player John Butcher was born in 1954, the same year as Russell. Contrabass player Dominic Lash (also from the UK) was born in 1980; despite the generational difference, however, he performed numerous times with Russell and Butcher in trios and other formations. On December 10, 2010, the three musicians appeared as a trio at GIO Fest III in Glasgow. That performance is documented on this album. The CD sleeve features texts recounting memories of John Russell, written (in English and Japanese respectively) by Glasgow-based guitarist Neil Davidson, who performed at GIO Fest III on the same day, and sound artist suzueri, who met Russell on numerous occasions during his visits to Japan in 2018 and 2019.
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