By Paul Acquaro
Captured at the 2015 Jazz em Agosto Festival in Lisbon, Summer Skyshift is the second collaboration between saxophonist John Butcher and the Portugal’s RED Trio, their first was Empire, from No Business in 2011. This new collection of improvisations runs from introspective to out of this world during the course of its four tracks.
Butcher hardly needs an introduction to readers on this blog. The unique musical lexicon that he has developed allows him the freedom to use his instrument as an extension of sound itself – the absolutely surprising the tones and timbres he creates from the saxophone blends in seamlessly with traditional ones, and he connects with the trio brilliantly. Likewise with the RED Trio, comprised of Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on double bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums and percussion, they have consistently enthralled the writers and readers of blog. For example, going back to Dan Sorrell’s review of the Trio’s album Rebento (No Business, 2013):
Despite the classic instrumental lineup, we’re encroaching upon territory that’s beyond history or influence, cutting a path through the dense thicket of three overlapping minds, one that becomes illuminated when they put fingers to instrument.
Words that ring quite true here as well, though now augmented by Butcher’s presence. The trio is a formidable unit that when mixed with the reed player, becomes a musical juggernaut. Track one opens with tiny splashes of chords from the piano and a smattering of tones from the saxophone, as the group embarks on a steady building of intensity. Three minutes into the 13-minute track, finds Butcher stacking phrases upon phrases atop the trio’s insistent foundation. Then, shifting to more spacious phrasing, Pinheiro gives Butcher the opportunity to really let loose, which in turns cues the others to ratchet up the intensity. Track 1.2 is a study in quiet tension. Playing quietly or laying out entirely, the piano and drums allow wide berth for Butcher and Faustino to engage in a long duet, juxtaposing stretched tones and blips of sound into an evocative collage. Moving ahead to the third track (1.3), Pinheiro’s keys are leaping from the board, Ferrandini keeps and extends the pulse, and Faustino’s bass shifts musical tectonic plates.
It’s always interesting to see how certain combinations work together and RED Trio has proven to be extremely versatile, releasing albums with Lotte Anker, Nate Wooley, Mattias Stahl, among others. However, sometimes a collaboration becomes its own thing and to my ears, that is the case here – this a quartet that has really latched onto something unique in their fiery crescendos and passionate forays. Summer Skyshift has certainly landed on my top ten lists for the year.