“Motion” reviewed in The Wire
By Daniel Spicer, published in The Wire issue 361, March 2014
It’s an enduring cliche that improvisors who play well together enjoy a certain level of telepathic rapport. But with Steve Noble and John Edwards it seems to be the real deal. The drummer and bassist have been working together for so long, and in so many different contexts – including Peter Brötzmann’s European trio, Decoy with organist Alexander Hawkins and countless gigs as a regular rhythm section at London’s Cafe Oto – that they don’t so much react to each other as act as one organism. It’s partly a case of very different personalities finding perfect foil for each other: Noble, a prodigious raconteur, is a hawk-like figure behind the drums, constantly scanning the room, and playing with the same restless energy he brings to conversation; while Edwards, a much more reflective individual, invariably shuts himself into a private world on stage, eyes closed in deep absorption. Then throw Alex Ward into the mix – a true English eccentric with a polite and diffident manner that belies his fondness for searing guitar shredding. Over the last ten years the three of them have forged a collective identity as an unlikely power trio exploring the point where jazz and heavy rock meet free improvisation.
You could call it a kind of free fusion. Ward’s overwrought licks and devilishly fretwork owe a lot to the Olympian feats of post-McLaughlin guitarists like Al Di Meola and Larry Coryell. But, surfing on the edge of Noble’s and Edwards’s constantly mutating inventions, he’s given enough freedom to escape the straightjacket of high seriousness and enjoy himself. This, in essence, is NEW’s secret ingredient: an impetuous sense of humour and an impulse to undermine their own grandiloquent excesses. It’s all there in microcosm in “Betting On Now”, the nearly ten minute opening track on this new studio album. Nippy, hyperkinetic percussion and head-down bass thrummage gel into a thickly propulsive surge, which Ward smears with aching, in the red histrionics. Near boiling point, a lumbering power rock riff suddenly appears from nowhere, holds for around ten seconds before dissolving into a maelstrom of freeform flailing, which in turn flips into an interlude of cheesy cocktail jazz swing with smooth, white-teethed chords bleeding into feedback dive-bombs. Sure, it’s preposterously overblown. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.