On an episode of the Laura Flanders podcast, Disability justice activist and writer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasingha speaks of love as a life force, labeling it as a process of “rigorous messy learning.” The most important art can function in this superficially contradictory fashion. Conjoining flights of fancy and wondrously ordered episodic revelations pervade Unearthed, the newest offering from the long-established duo of Eddie Prevost and John Butcher. Repeatedly, in train-long dotted spirals encompassing the vast and inclusive histories informing David Grundy’s expert notes, the duo alchemizes vicissitude, distilling and creating life from life in each sonically charged moment.
The most obvious case involves “Lament for Old Bones”’s progression from dirge to something approaching waltz, though of the post-“My Favorite Things” variety. Could there possibly exist a more beautiful and communicative version of music finding its trajectory in a series of shared moments? Points of tone and timbre ripple through the resonant church acoustic, first Prevost and then Butcher in solemn procession, Butcher listening as he so often does before entering into dialogue with Prevost’s staggered melody. That slowly inexorable finding of the way toward what clumsily might be called order, as meter emerges only to shatter, encapsulates the relationship Grundy defines as trust. I hear it as a kind of love, the spiritual bond prevalent throughout all three of these lengthy improvisations comprised of varied fragments.
Each elastic episode expands and contracts on reaudition, blurring the boundaries of model, of call and response, even of event in time as spatial reverberation becomes a counterpoint, a third voice. The trills Butcher lays down beginning at 5:15 of “digging” give rise to rough rolls and delicately piquant percussives before expanding into half-step sustains, the glorious juxtaposition of high energy and low dynamics. They have their own expanded analogue beginning at 7:32, Prevost drifting toward and away from any traditional notion of swing, or is it more fitting to suggest that swing is bending to his creative will? Like the timbrally rich historical allusions commencing “Tap Root,” sudden shifts and their attendant narrative insertions inform the ever-evolving dialogue at the music’s heart. Synchronicities abound, luminous reorderings of seemingly disparate sounds whose relationships connote discovery and community. Butcher’s sustained multiphonic culminates at 14:32 with Prevost’s hushed exciting of what sounds like a gong as tones resonate in complete sympathy, cradled in that lush acoustic. It all complements the smears and reports bandied about near the 21-minute mark, Prevost’s high hat setting up the whimsicalities his punch-line brushwork elucidates.
Within and around that vast but never overbearing acoustic, the historical equalizer, eras are shaped and reshaped. Mood and time become playthings to the creative in communion. No amount of verbiage can even approximate the joy of discovery gained on each through-listen, the wonder at time caged in a moment and moments caught in temporal flux. The recording is superb, as is expected on a Matchless release, but with headphones, there is something visceral in the bass drum that allows the illusion of being in the country church. From full-on swing and fire to the most delicate chamber music, Prevost and Butcher contemplate and propell each moment even as it is uncovered, fully justifying the disc’s evocative title.