Nick Butcher is known, by the few who have had the honor of hearing his work, as a master of the indie avant garde, a purveyor of a unique blend consisting of free jazz and folk-tronica. It’s an odd combination, one that lends more so to the latter, but with an affection toward the former.
This affinity finds a home on his new work, Free Jazz Bitmaps Vol. 1, available from Hometapes. Originally released as a collective of A-side / B-side lathe-cut 7″records, it now comes to us in true LP form with artwork as a “composite of the art created for each 7-inch release.”
This is a unique concept in and of itself. The album is split between an A-side, featuring original tracks by Nick Butcher himself, and a B-side where free-jazz artists reinterpret his works.
Originality, too, is skewed here. Butcher pieces together samples for a sound that is quite unlike any other — so, too, his work is a reinterpretation at its core.
Free Jazz Bitmaps Vol. 1, then, isn’t for the common fan. There is no love for standardized song structure common in pop music, for love of vocals for there are none, for trace recognizability of what one might call the norm.
Obscurity is the path Butcher takes, and it’s one he has traveled well over his career as a musician. “10,000” opens with a nice, soft melody before diving into the heavy, subtle pounding of the tonal “Great Lake”. Here, Nick builds to a slight thunder in the last minute, with a deep rumble.
The thumping continues on “Implements”, a song that has a little more structure but plays somewhat with beats and time within its given signature.
In “Cozy Kitchen”, we finally hear a bit more of the free jazz side of Butcher. The beginning is open and lacks congruency, which is precisely what you want with free jazz, before it strips away to minimalism. “HTML Italics” and “Formants” continue the trend.
This is all and good, but it’s the B-side where things get a bit hairy. The reinterpretations, done on everything from a marimba to a bass clarinet to a double bass, are inherently minimal. Each are completed by a single instrument and are, in their truest sense, free jazz.
On side B, there is no structure outside of a beginning and an end. And I’ll bet you’ll be hard pressed to decipher (outside of looking at the name of the song), which goes with which. It’s actually quite brilliant.
2. Great Lake
4. Cozy Kitchen
5. HTML Italics
7. 10,000 (reinterpreted by Keefe Jackson, tenor saxophone)
8. Great Lake (reinterpreted by Jason Adasiewicz, vibraphone)
9. Implements (reinterpreted by Jason Roebke, double bass)
10. Cozy Kitchen (reinterpreted by Tim Daisy, marimba)
11. HTML Italics (reinterpreted by Jason Stein, bass clarinet)
12. Formants (reinterpreted by Mike Reed, drums)