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The N.E.W. thing

N.E.W. liveI could only stay for a single set of the trio called N.E.W. — Steve Noble (drums), John Edwards (double bass) and Alex Ward (guitar) — at Cafe Oto tonight, but it was enough to get excited about. This is an improvising group of ferocious intensity: for my taste, maybe the most effective high-volume band I’ve heard since Tony Williams’s Lifetime set the standard for such adventures more than 40 years ago.

The first piece lasted half an hour, in which everybody played without a break. They work with patterns rather than tempos, usually set by Noble’s relentlessly attacking sticks, mallets or brushes (he also has a way with cymbals that makes me think he’s the post-industrial Billy Higgins). Edwards, surely the most remarkable bassist ever produced by Britain, works off and around the drums, tugging and hammering the strings to produce huge surges of sound and in one passage bowing them above his left hand on the fingerboard while the drummer momentarily toyed  with a light Latin vamp. As for Ward, he is a constant astonishment: Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner”, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner”, Sonny Sharrock’s work with Herbie Mann and Last Exit, Robert Fripp’s solo on King Crimson’s “A Sailor’s Tale” and Derek Bailey’s amplified solo pieces — he doesn’t sound like any of them, but they might be some of the sources of inspiration behind the barrage of howling, squealing, chattering and whining but always coherent and compelling noise that he sets up.

They’ve been playing together in this configuration for half a dozen years, and the degree of empathy is phenomenal. You can hear it on their new album, Motion, a vinyl-only release on the Dancing Wayang label, limited to 300 copies ( The product of a studio session, it can’t possibly convey the impact of hearing them playing to an audience in a small room, but it has other, equally worthwhile qualities.

Try to imagine how a combination of Hendrix, Charles Mingus and Keith Moon might sound, stripped of ego, transported to Dalston in 2014, with modern amplification turned all the way up. If that might be your idea of a good time, don’t miss ’em.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. crocodilechuck #


    “Edwards, surely the most remarkable bassist ever produced by Britain…” (snip)

    erm, including dave holland?


    March 8, 2014
    • I thought about it pretty hard before I wrote it. In fact I’ve been thinking about it a lot for a while. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have enormous respect for the work of Dave Holland, Jeff Clyne, Dave Green, Coleridge Goode, Harry Miller, Ron Matthewson and others. But I think John Edwards is absolutely remarkable: there’s never been anything like him before, anywhere in jazz.

      March 8, 2014
      • crocodilechuck #

        Thanks. Have never heard OF them, and can’t find any discs. Would love to hear anything by them, by your account above.

        March 8, 2014
  2. The second set last night was equally intense. This group take no prisoners: you simply have to go where they take you and what a journey that is. I have been to almost all the gigs that N.E.W. have played, and this was the best yet.

    March 8, 2014
  3. Mick Steels #

    Tremendous compliment you pay to Edwards when you consider the many fine bass players emanating from these shores, from the magnificent Jeff Clyne onwards.
    Good to see you giving a shout to Sharrock’s work with Herbie Mann. The flautist was not an outstanding musician but had the ability and resources to surround himself with very accomplished players, thinking of Bill Evans,Chick Corea and a whole raft of top notch bassists.

    March 8, 2014
  4. Grahame Painting #

    Hello Richard

    I’ve subscribed to your blog for a little over four months, and I have to say that it’s always an inspirational read — and beautifully written.

    Great review of NEW. I know the three of them and played briefly with Steve Noble and much more with John Edwards’ late sparring partner, the drummer Tony Marsh, with Nick Stephens on bass and others. I also play in Family Fodder, who are currently receiving good reviews in the UK, the US and Europe for two re-releases on Staubgold of albums we did in the early Eighties — better late than never.

    If you like this sort of stuff perhaps you would be interested in checking out my own band, Horseless Headmen. Apologies if this is a blatant pitch too far. I took the view that you might like to be alerted to music that is below the radar as well as current projects of better-known performers.

    Though each of has a pretty good musical pedigree we’re making our way without manager, agent or promoter at present. I believe we create really good music and want us to achieve greater exposure, so of course we need all the help we can get.

    Here’s a link to our website:

    All the best Grahame Painting

    March 8, 2014
  5. Jeff Gifford #

    N.EW. sounds G.O.O.D.

    March 10, 2014

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