One Track Mind: Johnny Butler, “Simon Says” from the Raise It Up EP (2014)

Some jazz musicians are afraid to embrace technology with their music for fear of losing their purity. Saxophonist Johnny Butler has no such qualms.

His fearless headlong dive into the joys of looping, dubbing and multi-tracking made 2010s’s Solo appear to include a whole orchestra of saxophonists when all this time it was just him, spinning off musical clones of himself on the spot. As for “purity,” it’s pure, blissful sonority.

Butler sought to take things with sound manipulation a little further for his next trick than Solo and his widely acclaimed 2013 long player Carousel, with an EP entitled Raise It Up, just released earlier this month on Bandcamp. It’s understandably taken him years to make Raise It Up a real progression from his prior works. He realized that to do this, he would need to embrace more than just his saxophones, and thus he brought in the drums of Kassa Overall, the bass of Aidan Carroll and for one track, JJ Byars’ alto saxophone.

That might have been enough of a step forward, but Butler wasn’t done mixing it up. He piled on genre after genre on top of a jazz foundation. You ever go on Bandcamp and read those tags the artists put on there? They tend to throw everything they can think of to get their shit ensnared in more search terms. Butler’s tags for his new EP are:

hip-hop. rap jazz avant-garde beatstrumental brooklyn edm electronic funk house mixtape r&b saxophone soul Brooklyn

Just the first song alone, “Simon Says,” is exactly as advertised (well I dunno about the “Brooklyn” part, but being from that borough carries some cachet with a lot of folks, so I’m just going to roll with it).

Anyway, Butler builds his own sax section via overdubbing, and that forms the repeating figure around which the song is constructed. That includes the various electronic sounds, some rapping and Overall’s drums. Out of this odd juxtaposition of Glenn Miller and Ice-T emerges Butler’s tenor sax making some nice remarks very much in the jazz vein until the song’s beat erodes and the song stalls to its ending.

“Simon Says” might be freaky enough to even go on our weekly WTF Wednesday column, but I just didn’t want to wait that long. And neither should you.

Purchase and download Raise It Up

P.S.–just for shits ‘n’ giggles, also check out Butler’s street-wise, contorted take on the Bee Gee’s “Jive Talking.” Robin and Maurice must be spinning in their graves.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.