Review: Peter Brötzmann/ John Edwards/ Steve Noble – OTO roku label launch

Steve Noble, John Edwards, Peter Brötzmann at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Brötzmann, John Edwards and Steve Noble – launch of OTO roku label at Café Oto, Wednesday 28 March 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston

Café Oto launched its own record label, OTO roku in characteristically unostentatious style, letting the live music do the talking, with a concert by the formidable trio of Peter Brötzmann, John Edwards and Steve Noble whose performance at Café Oto in 2010 is the subject of their lovingly produced first vinyl release – mastered in Berlin and pressed in the Netherlands, with a beautifully simple Brötzmann screenprinted artwork sleeve.

Diffident and modest as ever, Café Oto’s Hamish Dunbar, who had been awarded the first ever Genesis Prize the day before, worth £25,000, introduced the trio and outlined the vision for the record label, which will draw on the venue’s rich archive. Brötzmann had just played with Noble and Edwards at the Transmission 5 festival in Ravenna. Considering this was only their third performance together, these three masters of improvisation were extraordinarily well attuned to each other, as they also demonstrate on the live recording.

Rigorous, profound and enjoyable, this was a performance to be savoured. There was warmth and integrity to the playing, and an astonishing range – gravelly, glistening, fluid, they could build up to stratospheric heights, or drop down to haunting quietude. Brötzmann purposefully carved out a narrative which flitted from rough-hewn phrases scooped from the depths, to trance-like, meditative rhythms and elegaic musings. First on his lustrous copper-hued alto, then on tarogato and finally on a silver sliver of a clarinet, he mined the figures repeatedly for hidden nuances, finding rich new seams at every turn.

Noble and Edwards responded in kind with consummate professionalism. Noble applied the sharpest of focus to an acutely controlled dynamic flow, shifting from a power-jazz tirade from the Elvin Jones school to rippling, African-tinged multi-rhythms and crisp military rolls. Swiftly floated hands brushed the cymbals and skins, small mallets tapped out bright, coded clusters, and jarringly scraped out squeaks and scuffs from the kit’s surfaces. Edwards, equally, does not play by the rules. His right hand was a blur as he attacked the strings of his bass in the opening flurry, only to stop right down to a precise, loping bass beat. A stretch of bluesey, nervous bowing turned into Bach cello for milliseconds, before he dragged his fingers between the strings and catapulted the strings relentlessly.

Brötzmann ultimately called the shots, deftly imposing the rhythmic imperative that coursed through the veins of the trio. His sound may be expansive and raw, but it is also cultured, sophisticated. He took on the distant calls of flying geese, paid oblique homage to his teenage hero, Sidney Bechet on lightly plaintive clarinet runs and rejoiced in the discourses he created with Edwards’ thunderous bass textures and Noble’s classy fills. Warm, sustained tarogato notes would melt like candle wax before he started to worry the instrument, keeping it off the straight and narrow, a reminder that he has constantly asked the questions, going back to the 60s where the formalism of hard bop was rejected by the emerging European free jazz movement, of which he was – and still is – a key player.

There was an unremitting freshness to both sets – every note was a new note, and that is perhaps the key to what made the evening so special.

Peter Brötzmann: saxophones, tarogato, silver clarinet
John Edwards: double bass
Steve Noble: drums


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