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Alan Wilkinson / John Edwards / Steve Noble: Live At Cafe Oto

Mark F. Turner By

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The audacity of free jazz is its tightrope balance between chaos and control, music almost without boundaries. Vociferous and untamed, maybe, but certainly not undisciplined, it takes a certain skill and ingenuity to create music such as heard on Live At Cafe Oto. To the contrary, the UK free jazz trio—Alan Wilkinson (reeds), John Edwards (bass), and Steve Noble (drums) is clearly versed in jazz theory from the hard bop sounds of Charles Mingus to the avant-gardism of Albert Ayler.

The trio is establishing their sound in London's music scene as fierce improvisers, performing in multiple seminal groups such as the N.E.W and the Peter Brotzmann & Alan Wilkinson Quartet. Following their first recording, Obliquity (Bo'Weavil, 2008), this concert captures their sound in unadulterated form, a performance that is an unrelenting and whimsical ride, all within the space of just two tracks.

A clarinet's scream opens "Spellbound" into thirty-one minutes of sheer energy. It's frantic pace moving like a wall of sound—screeching horn, slicing bowed bass trills, and polyrhythmic drums. Yet within this sonic barrage, the music never becomes monotonous. It adapts and changes, like a living organism. Around the four minute mark the music resembles a hectic marketplace in India; at nine minutes, a rowdy groove tempo; at twelve minutes, a complete three ring circus act with horn skronks, dizzying bass, and tinkering percussion. Surprisingly inventive, these musicians are in complete control of their instruments, displaying excellent technique and stamina in a muscular display of trio abandon.

"Recoil" is just under eight minutes but still packs a nasty punch. It's a shorter yet equally potent display of musical theatrics (howls, whistles, and outlandish voices). Noble's drums lay down a funky path as Edwards' double bass quakes. Right at the end of this impossible-metered tune, the music changes to a decelerated swing tempo with Eric Dolphy-esque swagger. From the wild applause at the end of both tracks, Oto's crowd got what they wanted and the trio delivered a definite live experience.

Track Listing: Spellbound; Recoil.

Personnel: Alan Wilkinson: alto, baritone saxophone, voice; John Edwards: bass; Steve Noble: drums.

Title: Live At Cafe Oto | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Bo'Weavil

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