I 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 (www.dancingwayang.com). 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.