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John Tchicai at Cafe Oto in London

John Sharpe By

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Tchicai rightly allowed plenty of space for bass and drums, provoking some wonderfully responsive duo interplay. At one point, Edwards launched into a percussive duet by way of his trademark alternation of energetic strums and slaps on the body of his bass in a jagged rhythm. Later, Marsh reflected Edwards' emphatic arco swipes after split seconds by detonating bass drum bombs. Even when Tchicai was involved, the nature of his cyclical language sometimes meant that the movement and complexity lay in the dense interweaving thickets of bass and drums.

Both men were equally switched on to Tchicai as much as each other, frequently taking their lead from the saxophonist, such as when Edwards' walking bass proffered buoyant support for a passage of bluesy outpouring. Later, the bassist conjured eldritch shrieks with his bow to provide appropriately atmospheric accompaniment to Tchicai's recitation.

In other examples of their interplay, after one explosive bass solo, Marsh waited poised until ready to pick up the thread by tolling on his cymbal edges alongside Tchicai's coolly breathily lyrical balm. Even in full flow neat simpatico touches abounded as when Tchicai's vibrato-full trills were echoed by Marsh on cymbals and briefly by Edwards rapid fire strumming.

Edwards has become one of the premier bassists on the scene, always in demand, full of energy and physicality, as exemplified by how he would pull the strings almost completely off the fingerboard to achieve the requisite bending of his notes. In his solos, the bassist cherry-picked Tchicai's motifs, taking them as the basis for endless mutation, stretching and speeding up the phrases until they blurred into a droning buzz.

Marsh celebrated his 70th birthday at Cafe Oto the previous week, but showed no sign of slowing down, with a whirlwind solo, beautifully constructed, in the first set. He was always seeking ways to vary the timbre of his kit, at one point placing a towel on his snare to dampen the pitch, then prosaically using it to wipe his face, before replacing it. Later, his search for the unconventional saw him striking the bass drum with mallets while modulating the tone of his snare with his elbow, then using one stick to muffle the vibration of the drum head as he struck it with the other.

Tumultuous, prolonged applause greeted the end of each set with the audience enthusiastically buying into the rapport of the group, apparent not only in their impassioned playing but in Tchicai's playful introductions. At the finish with nowhere to which to retreat, they rewarded the crowd with a short encore, summing up the set in miniature, starting at a fiery pace, only to slow to a movingly funereal elegy before a breathy conclusion.



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John Sharpe


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