Essential New Music: John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / Matthew Shipp’s “The Clawed Stone”

The Clawed Stone is the second recording by English saxophonist John Butcher, German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and American pianist Matthew Shipp. The trio’s first album,, 2016’s Tangle, was a splendid example of strong contrary vectors converging to create a perfect storm of spontaneous music-making. While Shipp’s output gives no quarter, it derives from recognizable traditions: free jazz, classical music and the language of the piano.  Butcher and Lehn are both committed improvisers, and each has worked determinedly against instrumental prescriptions. The former has used soprano and tenor saxes to manage sounds most commonly accessed with the use of electronics, and the latter has confined himself to older, analogue synths that respond to the human touch.  

First time around, they didn’t look for common ground, but for ways to each be themselves, and support each other’s efforts to do the same. The rematch brings additional challenge to the fray, as Lehn periodically processes Shipp and Butcher’s playing. The Clawed Stone’s digital studio sound makes the shifts from pure acoustic tones to ear-scouring static especially momentous. But such effects are never played for mere novelty. Interference and disappearance are parts of a tool kit that also includes distinctly personal gestures and contrasting responses. The outcome is music that grips and surprises at every turn.

—Bill Meyer