Joe McPhee at Cafe Oto, London
Of course, at other times McPhee was in full-fire breathing mode, Ayleresque vibrato unleashed, legs planted, knees bent, leaning back as he hollered to the heavens. His gut-wrenching growls and falsetto whinnies contributed to a mutual catharsis with Edwards bouncing frantically up and down picking and banging on his bass, Hawkins throwing Hammond yelps into the pungent stew, and Noble with a whistle in his mouth punctuating his no holds barred tattoo.
Noble's penchant for rocky grooves drove the quartet to repeated crescendos during the free-for-all episodes, though this was only part of his approach: he also thoroughly explored the textures available from his kit, sometimes augmenting it to extend his range. As he listened during one pause, the drummer prepared himself by draping a towel over a ride cymbal and attaching a woodblock to another, for a cavalcade of unconventional timbres. This attention to his cymbals was another noteworthy facet of his playing. Weird clanging and bonging in his first solo evoked an unholy collision between temple gongs and an automobile scrap yard. Later he struck cymbals held in his hand to manipulate their resonance, then placed them on the drum heads for random reverberation, in a marvelously spiky rhythmic exposition.
Edwards provided the perfect fulcrum tipping effortlessly between the jazzy and the abstract, one minute forcefully walking, the next bowing above and below bridge while slapping the body of his bass in a frenzy of rhythm. Hawkins C3 filled out the ensembles, slaloming through the bass and drum thickets but offering sensitive support to McPhee when needed. More Sun Rathan Jimmy Smith, Hawkins made deft use of the percussive and tonal effects available in the more open improv sections, but dispensed simultaneous diverging lines as the tumult increased and resorted to forearm smashes to the keys to wring sufficient sonic mass at the most frenetic moments.
As a foursome they uncovered numerous imaginative ways to come together, particularly in the more open sections, demonstrating impressive awareness and restraint. At the end of one solo Noble scraped his stick across a cymbal for a piercing squeal, Hawkins whooshed on organ matching the shimmer of the cymbals and Edwards re-entered with bowed harmonics for a great trio section full of space and ear-grabbing textures. Later another excellent passage ensued of multiphonic soprano saxophone cries together with creaking and humming bow work from Edwards, and Nobles inventive cymbal work, all coalescing to sound like an ululating chorus of voices.
A very quiet segment of small indeterminate noises, supplemented by drawn out tenor notes from the back of the stage area, signaled the beginning of the end of the second set. A seething trio stasis developed as McPhee preached, culminating in a long held tone which Hawkins adroitly picked up on organ and sustained even after the hornman had finished, bringing a smile to McPhee's face and eliciting a standing ovation from the crowd.
Two encores spoke volumes about the audience's reaction. It was the second which stuck in the mind. Built round a repeated melodic pattern, McPhee, on tenor, and Hawkins extemporized a joint manifesto recalling a South African township song. After the saxophonist's swooping variations, spirited group interplay deftly manufactured a loosely syncopated closure for a joyous conclusion to an evening where warmth and bonhomie had become inseparable from musical prowess.