Freedom Of The City 2012

John Russell

At a panel discussion held in Café Oto last week, a number of improvising musicians were invited to answer the question “what do you think you are doing?” One of the recurring motifs in their answers (and I also heard Pauline Oliveros say something similar last week) was the notion that free improvisation is the means of musical expression which best reflects the way we experience life itself, with all its moments of unexpected joy, and all its imperfections. We don’t follow a script, we don’t travel in straight lines. As Steve Noble put it, in his musing on the improvising imperative, even if you want to get across London from west to east, by tube, bus, train or whatever, you are improvising – which is especially true on a May bank holiday weekend, traditional spot in the calendar of the Freedom Of The City festival.

The festival is now into its second decade, and into its second home, moving from Conway Hall to the equally historic residence of the English Folk, Dance and Song Society at Cecil Sharp House. Aside from being a beautiful space, high ceilinged and wonderfully resonant, it struck me that it was perhaps a fitting venue in another sense. Following the analogy above, improvisation shares a kinship with folk music. Both celebrate life, but in a different way: one lives lived, and the other lives being lived, the preservation of history versus the living in a perpetual now.

London Improviser's Orchestra

Judging from the festival’s lineups, over the course of its twelve year history, the improvising community is evolving and expanding (the London Improviser’s Orchestra alone numbered an impressive 39 on stage). Many of the same elder statesmen continue to populate the bill, from organisers Evan Parker and Eddie Prevost, to the guitarist John Russell and vocalist Phil Minton. New entrants have graduated from Prevost’s workshops (Jennifer Allum, Ross Lambert), or developed in incubators overseas (Okkyung Lee, Guillaume Viltard), but the imperative appears so strong that there is only one way to leave. The recent death of the great Tony Marsh left a gap in the bill, and there were to be tributes to the percussionist throughout the weekend. If there was a musician who epitomised the idea of improvising as life, it was Marsh, who visibly lived every note he played, his face lined with emotion. A single note from a playing companion could make his face light with joy as he mentally explored the sonic possibilities it presented, like a child being given its first yo-yo.

Guillaume Viltard

Fittingly, the festival was opened by a member of the young generation who knew Marsh well. Double bass player Guillaume Viltard began his set with a lament, a smeary, teary arco scraping. As he rubbed his bow and fingers all over his bass I felt I could hear every minute detail of its construction. In the vibrations, squeaks and buzzing, I could hear the grain of the wood, and the ridges of the strings, as if he was less playing the instrument, and more getting it to tell the audience about itself. As the set progressed, the additional percussive embellishment he provided, from tapping its neck, striking the body with the bow, and stamping his feet, made it seem like he wasn’t alone on that stage. He finished by creaking the tuning pegs rhythmically, slowing to silence like an old clock counting its few last seconds.

Okkyung Lee

Other young artists on the bill were showing that the scene continues to thrive and develop in exciting ways. The cellist Okkyung Lee is a very active and highly regarded member of this community, having recorded with Evan Parker and Phil Minton in recent years, but this solo performance had an unexpected incandescence about it. She seemed edgy or unhappy at the start, snapping brusquely (if rightly) at a photographer, but she managed to translate this emotion into a searing and raw performance. She began by playing so softly that it was if she was swimming in the sounds of traffic outside, but her fluid playing soon begat a torrent of notes, furiously fingering some extraordinary fast runs, before the stream finally snagged on a rock. She continually caught herself on these repetitive, sawing, grinding riffs, the music finally splintering and submerging – by the end, her bow was as ragged as her mood, and she marched off stage briskly, her mind still seemingly ablaze.

Han-Earl Park

I took much pleasure from the youthful energy and invention on display elsewhere. Han Earl-Park’s idiosyncratic guitar style was beguiling, his array of tiny, sharp sounds glinting like fragments of broken glass – the interplay between him and trumpeter Ian Smith was almost telepathic, changing directions as one, and the music coming to two seemingly unplanned and instinctive dead stops. Lee Patterson lit up a couple of ensemble sets – literally in one case, feeding the airy hiss of a close-mic’ed naked flame into the atmospheric mix of minute sounds being produced by Rhodri Davies, John Butcher and others in their group Common Objects. Only occasionally did it feel that there was invention for its own sake: the electronic experiments of Grundik Kasyanksy, while fun, seemed to bear no relationship to what anyone else was doing on stage, while the interjections of Ross Lambert (metronome, bowed goblets, vibrator) into his trio served to disrupt the little flow that there was. A few imperfections would, of course, be expected across 16 sets of improvised music.

Evan Parker and Eddie Prevost

Even the more long-standing members of the community showed signs that they were still seeking out and enjoying new experiences. John Russell’s duo with the trumpeter Jamie Coleman had plenty of quirkily enjoyable exchanges, close to call and response at times. Steve Noble’s pairing with the prepared piano and electronics of Sebastian Lexer was particularly inspired, keeping the drummer in textural and even harmonic areas rather than more traditional rhythmic ones. Lexer sampled and played back the sounds he was making, having Noble dance with his own shadow, while the sound of bowed piano strings and scraped cymbals mingled and filled the glorious space in the hall. Eddie Prevost and Evan Parker explored this receptive place further, the saxophonist tracing delicate spirals in the air while Prevost filled the room with deep resonance from his huge barrel of a drum.

Phil Minton and Christian Marclay

The vocalist Phil Minton was the one who best embodied that conjoining of improvisation and life. While Christian Marclay span records behind, Minton twisted his body corkscrew-like, feeling everything, his expressions pained and tortured (at one point, I’m sure Marclay looked over just to check he was OK), producing squeaks, howls and incredible split notes. This was a great duo set, in which at times it was impossible to tell who was making which sound: both were equally capable of producing pop and crackle. As Marclay juggled and cut into techno and jazz records, he brought many moments from the past into the now, spirits for Minton to inhabit and reanimate.

Jeb Bishop

In the Sunday evening slot that was originally due to host the Tony Marsh and Mark Sanders percussion duo, rather than leave a gap in the programme, Sanders picked an alternative band, featuring John Edwards on bass, Shabaka Hutchings on saxophone, and Jeb Bishop on trombone. In an earlier set with Caroline Kraabel, Edwards had reacted to a broken string by seizing it as an opportunity to try something different, savouring the buzz that the loose string made when held against his bass and bowed. Here, the group in which he featured turned a much more difficult (especially emotionally) situation into a triumph, with an upbeat and high energy session. They walked tantalisingly just on the free side of the in/out line, sounding like a lost 1969 BYG performance. The polyrhythmic Sanders was on supreme form throughout, and he and Edwards locked into a deep pulse in the backline, while up front Hutchings and Bishop gleefully engaged in animated close discussion, sharing melodic ideas, and completing each other’s phrases. Ultimately, this combination of masterful talent with infectious enthusiasm was possibly the best tribute to Marsh of the weekend. From sadness to joy in a heartbeat, so life goes, and in its improvisatory celebration of it, Freedom Of The City knows exactly what it is doing.


Joe McPhee and Decoy at Cafe Oto, 29/10/11

Joe McPhee and John Edwards, by Scott McMillan

I see the rhythm section of Steve Noble and John Edwards together in London quite often, but I’ve never managed to catch one of their rare appearances in Decoy, a trio which also features keyboard player Alexander Hawkins. As soon as you walk into the venue in which they are performing, the reasons for the infrequency of this combination are very tangible on stage: Hawkins plays an original Hammond B3 organ through an original Leslie cabinet. Those are some seriously big, seriously expensive, and seriously difficult to transport pieces of kit. However, they also make a seriously wonderful sound; particularly when deployed not just in conjunction with the always listenable Noble and Edwards, but with the seriously great Joe McPhee sitting in too.

I was a little disappointed when I last encountered McPhee as part of Peter Brotzmann’s tentet: not because there was anything intrinsically wrong with his playing, but because by restricting himself to some stern-faced pocket trumpet, I didn’t get the chance to hear him let rip gloriously on the saxophone, the instrument with which he is most commonly associated. His recent recorded sax output, whether solo (2009’s Alto), in a duo (this year’s Under A Double Moon with Chris Corsano) or with his Survival Unit trio, has veered from the incandescent to the luminous, the utterly sensational to the highly sensitive. As good as anything since his 1971 debut Nation Time, for sure. He continued this fine form tonight, playing sparingly and thoughtfully, only contributing where he had something to say. But when he had something to say, he said it with irrefutable force: melody lines were spun out and then teased at repeatedly until they became ragged relations of their previous forms. Even his trumpet lines here were a contrast to those in the tentet – not just because he had more space, but because he played it with the joie de vivre of a Don Cherry.

McPhee wasn’t even the most impressive aspect of this incredible show. I’ve probably seen John Edwards upwards of fifty times, but I’ve rarely seen him play quite as well as he did tonight. Edwards is usually at his best when playing with Steve Noble, as he seems to know that no matter how far out he goes, he won’t lose the drummer, but this was outrageous tonight. He invariably opened the pieces with a riot of a solo, jamming his bow under the strings, wedging strings together into v shapes, moaning loudly, letting off huge one note bass bombs, and just generally fixing the energy level for the night at its highest possible setting. Noble, as usual, would rummage around in his kit to find an answer to every question Edwards asked, from clanging on metal bowls to slapping out meaty mutant funk, keeping it all on point, and pointing far forward.

Alexander Hawkins and Steve Noble, by Scott McMillan

But special mention has to go to that Hammond B3 organ, and to the man who played it, Alexander Hawkins. The instrument was used at times to add that distinctive tonal colour to some of the group improvisations, with Hawkins’s fingers dancing lightly across the keys like soft wind through grasses. But when Hawkins took charge, as he did near the start of a phenomenal second set, he totally stole the show. He built up a solo from mere ripples to a point where it was as if he was physically swimming through sound, changing from front crawl to a furious breast stroke as he switched from the upper to lower manuals and performed huge glissando runs with the whole of his forearms (in terms of B3 proponents, this was much more Sun Ra than Jimmy Smith, Hawkins swam right out into the spaceways). Some of the the organ’s most interesting features are the ways it allows the performer to manipulate the harmonics of the sound it is producing, which raised the problem of how precisely to take advantage of those effects when in full flow. Hawkins’s solution was to jab at the organ’s drawbars with his nose, one final surprise in a show that surpassed all expectations to become one of the very best things I’ve seen this year.

N.E.W. at The Vortex, 14/3/11

Steve Noble, by Scott McMillan

The Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo was supposed to be at the Vortex this evening, but for understandable reasons, he couldn’t it make it. The venue offered refunds on the tickets, and some seemed to take them up on it, judging by the empty seats dotted around the place. Those people are fools. For in Kondo’s place, the superb improvising trio N.E.W. were given two sets. After his duo with Arthur Doyle at Cafe Oto, this meant I’d be seeing Steve Noble play drums for the second night in a row. That probably isn’t the first time that has happened to me. After all, Steve Noble and John Edwards (who is the E to Noble’s N in the trio’s name) are the two musicians I’ve seen in concert more than anyone else. I’d call them the country’s finest rhythm section, but that would be doing them a massive disservice – for what they do on their respective instruments is about so much more than rhythm, it is about dynamics, about feel, about listening, about texture. And, because even given that, what pairing can you point to anywhere in the world that is better?

John Edwards, by Scott McMillan

Having said that, I’ve actually never seen Noble and Edwards play with Alex Ward (the W) before, and I was really looking forward to it, Kondo or no Kondo. Ward is probably better known as a clarinettist, but in N.E.W. he plays electric guitar. And I’m not talking about your Grant Green-style jazz electric guitar here; this is the jazz electric guitar of Sonny Sharrock, of John McLaughlin in his wilder moments, or even of Thurston Moore – as much rock and noise as jazz. So, this trio promised excitement – and it duly delivered. Right from the off, Ward was hacking away at his guitar, jagged shards of sounds flying off in all directions, and Edwards was disrespecting his (amplified) instrument by attacking it with the end of his bow. Noble’s performance initially lacked some of the subtlety and variety of the previous evening, but then again he had to hammer at his kit here just to be heard. He dragged them into a succession of deep repetitive grooves, making this sound at times a little like a higher voltage version of another power trio, the Tony Williams Lifetime (trading the crunching stabs of Larry Young’s organ for the grind of Edwards’s bass). For a moment, I swear they even fleetingly – too fleetingly – flirted with Can’s “Mother Sky”.

Alex Ward, by Scott McMillan

The second set started quieter and noticeably better balanced (the bass up a little, the guitar a little down). Ward was scribbling away with the end of his bottleneck, while Edwards was just forcing his bow against the bass, producing splintering creaks. This enabled Noble to rummage through his arsenal, coming up with a succession of textural weapons – scraped drumsticks, rubber mallets, and upturned cymbals pressed against his drums. Finally, he settled on a pair of cowbells – one attached to the kit, the other used as a drumstick – for the final assault, propelling the trio into a no-nonsense boogie war, which actually had them grinning by the end. They hadn’t expected to be playing two sets tonight, but it looked like that particular groove could have carried them all night. And us. And, indeed, many more. Even given the circumstances, a band this good should never be playing to an under-capacity Vortex. If you were somewhere else, you missed out.

Arthur Doyle and Steve Noble at Cafe Oto, 13/3/11

Arthur Doyle, by Scott McMillan

Noah Howard’s 1969 album The Black Ark begins with a bouncing bass and piano groove, before massed horns assemble loosely around a melody. It doesn’t last long, as a succession of solos lead the track “Domiabra” into increasingly free areas. However, nothing can prepare you for the extraordinary entrance of saxophonist Arthur Doyle five minutes in, cutting short the trumpet solo with a devastating solo which builds on (if something so destructive can really be said to “build on” anything) the more brutal developments made elsewhere by the likes of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders. In the liner notes to the Bo’Weavil reissue of the LP, Oren Ambarchi describes his playing on the track as “incoherent rage…a chaotic and murderous sound”. It is a truly shocking moment. As was Doyle’s entrance onto the Cafe Oto stage for this rare live performance, but shocking in a very different way. I’d seen video clips of him playing with Sunny Murray or Han Bennink over the last decade, and he seemed in reasonable nick, so the suddenness of the decline in his physical condition was quite upsetting. Now without his dreadlocks and his teeth, he looked almost unrecognisable, and worryingly gaunt and frail. During a particularly violent warm-up set of solo drumming by Steve Noble, Doyle could be glimpsed at the side of the stage, bent double, coughing feebly. When it was his turn to finally play himself, he shuffled uneasily to his seat, and we fell quiet to hear his spoken introduction. Which was, owing to the lack of teeth, entirely indecipherable.

Arthur Doyle, by Scott McMillan

And when he did put his tenor to his mouth, the signs were little better – he played a succession of very short phrases punctuated by pauses and gasps for breath, as if that was all his current condition would allow him to contribute – indeed, he quickly discarded that instrument, almost as if it was just too much effort for him to play it at all. And so he began to sing. After a fashion. Singing has been a feature of Doyle’s live sets for some time, but it can never have sounded quite like this. I’ve probably heard hundreds of versions of Gershwin’s “Summertime”, but this one was extraordinary – lyrics implied, melody merely hinted at, all suffused in a deep moan, the song seemingly being no more than fragments dragged up from the depths of not just his memory, but from a collective, generational, and geographical one. It felt like the gradual disintegration of the song itself, even the songbook (we got “Bye Bye Blackbird” too), even the jazz tradition. We’ve had a succession of the music’s greatest pass away in recent years, and with each one that goes, we become further and further away from the source, from that first hand connection to the music’s roots. Watching and listening to Arthur Doyle tonight (his most famous is called Alabama Feeling, after all) was a stark reminder of just how much we stand to lose.

Steve Noble and Arthur Doyle, by Scott McMillan

And if it wasn’t obvious quite how much we’d lose in Doyle’s case, he hammered the point home during the duo performance with Steve Noble. It took a while to get going, despite the drummer’s supportive efforts (Noble deserves huge plaudits for his efforts tonight; I’ll be returning to talk more about him soon) to build some deep rhythms around Doyle’s clipped lines, answering and echoing, even switching to playing the drums with his hands to give him something with a common African root. Gradually, Doyle’s excursions were becoming longer, that familiar growl, and the Roland Kirk-like simultaneous singing and playing, becoming stronger and more confident. Noble obviously sensed this, persuading Doyle to do one more piece, which was to be the best of the night by far. The tone was bluesy and magnificently raw, and egged on by some thunderous drumming, he soared upwards to play a section as high as the solo during “Mount Fuji” from The Black Ark. Close your eyes, and you’d recognise this as being Arthur Doyle again. Which, after the preceding hour, was something of a shock.

Arthur Doyle by Scott McMillan

Stephen O’Malley and Steve Noble, Cafe Oto, 18/08/10

Stephen O'Malley

Cafe Oto was packed out. And packed out with a slightly different crowd than usual. There was no jazz mafia block-booking the front row. Instead, there was a slightly younger, hairier crowd, with a number of young men wearing the ATP festival garment of choice: yep, the Sunn O))) hoodie. They were here to see a fully decloaked Stephen O’Malley, playing with the great drummer (and near-resident at Oto these days) Steve Noble, in the first performance of a two-evening tenure at the venue. I’m guessing it didn’t taken them too long to discover that a hoodie was a particularly brave choice of outfit for a packed out Oto on a warm Summer night. This was hotter than hell.

Steve Noble

Speaking of brave choices, the support act probably pushed some of this uncomfortably hot crowd even further out of their comfort zones. The cellist Marcio Mattos (who I last saw at the Freedom Of The City festival, playing with John Edwards, Philip Wachsmann and Charlotte Hug as part of the Stellari String Quartet) played a solo set of improvised cello which made no concession to what was to follow: there were no periods of extended arco drone, for example. Instead there was a busy restlessness to his playing, and a focus on less common textures. Quite painful ones sometimes, like when he slowly scraped the strings with the sharp edge of a piece of plastic. After a dizzying section of fast pizzicato (someone in the audience actually passed out. OK, it may just have been the heat, but I like to think it was due to cello-related overexcitement) he began to deploy lots of echo, slapping the strings hard with his thumb to leave huge notes hanging in the humid Oto air.

Steve Noble

Although Stephen O’Malley and Steve Noble have been members of Aethenor for some years, this was to be their first duo gig together. And, initially, it showed. The dominant Noble was off and charging a couple of times in the early stages, building to a furious clatter, before he realised that O’Malley wasn’t coming with him. The guitarist spent most of the gig frowning, stroking at the strings, coaxing monolithic roar and rumble from his instrument in Sunn-like fashion. Nothing Noble could do, from tossing cymbals around to beating on the skins with his hands seemed to distract him. When he gave up and opted to work in O’Malley’s sonic territory – scraping sticks across his kit, pressing cymbals down onto the drums – the set really began to work. Eventually, Noble managed to snare O’Malley with one of his hooks, and the two rampaged into some exciting free-jazz-metal territory, a loud tangled squall, brutal shredded riffs from O’Malley interspersing with some typically exuberant playing from Noble. The set closed with some intense bass from O’Malley, a deep Eleh-like pulse finally fading to black. This had indeed been hotter than hell, both atmospherically and – eventually – musically.

Stephen O'Malley

Freedom Of The City Festival 2010 Day 1, Conway Hall, 02/05/10

London Improvisers Orchestra

The Freedom Of The City festival is now as traditional a part of London’s May Day bank holiday celebrations as sitting in a dark pub watching the snooker world championship final on the big screen. OK, so maybe that is just me. Since 2001, percussionist Eddie Prévost and saxophonist Evan Parker have been putting together lineups containing some of the finest improvising musicians from all over the world, and the 2010 edition may well be the strongest yet. Curatorial duties this year were shared with Spring Heel Jack/Spiritualized’s John Coxon, a man who through his Treader label and related performances is as responsible as anyone for the current healthy state of improvised music in the capital. Continue reading

Matthew Shipp with J Spaceman, John Coxon and Steve Noble at Cafe Oto, 13/02/10

Matthew Shipp

Over the years, New York pianist Matthew Shipp has been involved with such a diverse set of projects that a three night residency at Cafe Oto could barely scratch the surface. From his experimentations with electronics and hip-hop on his own Blue Series label, to the avant-garde improvisations with the Treader collective helmed by Ashley Wales and John Coxon of Spring Heel Jack, through collaborations with masters such as David S Ware and Roscoe Mitchell, he has covered more ground than most. The other two nights of this London stay was to take in performances with great local improvisers such as Paul Dunmall, John Edwards, Mark Sanders and John Butcher, while this second night featured the Spiritualized pairing of Jason Pierce and John Coxon, with the commanding figure of Steve Noble on drums

This night was something of an oddity in that Shipp wasn’t billed as playing piano. Instead, he spent the entire set – or rather, two sets with no gap in between – behind a Farfisa. He opened in a duo with Jason Pierce, or J Spaceman as he likes to call himself, on guitar. Reprising ideas from their SpaceShipp project, they were to spend around half an hour producing unrelenting waves of wah-wah and keyboard drone. This quickly went from enjoyable to Tony Conrad-style endurance test, before ending up being actually quite interesting – the subtle inflections in tone, slight shifts of feet on pedals, infrequent chord changes began to take on the status of significant events. There was a real sense of scientific exploration, colliding tones and clusters against each other to see what would spark off. As Shipp kneaded away at his keys, like a cat padding a blanket, it made me think of those Miles Davis gigs where he wouldn’t play trumpet, and would instead just bang on a keyboard with his elbow. And like those Miles Davis experiments, you have to lay aside your preconceptions and accept it for what it is – sure, you’re not seeing one of the world’s greatest trumpeters or pianists demonstrating the full spectrum of their talents – but is it, on its own terms, something worth hearing? In both cases, the answer is an undoubted yes.

John Coxon

When Noble and Coxon entered, I was very interested to see how they would get involved with this monolithic slab of noise and take it somewhere else. Sadly they didn’t get a chance to engage; Shipp brought the edifice crashing down with a flurry of chords. For the rest of the set, he was to lock horns with the energetic Noble, who was remarkably keen to push the piece into highly rhythmic places – being bass free, it never really swung or got funky, just pulsed frantically. Noble was to dig into his bag of toys, scattering cymbals and bells on his kit to give them some new sounds to work against. The squalling guitars of Coxon and Pierce were mainly providing texture, filling in the space between the deep organ drone and the high-pitched salvo of cymbal and rimshots which the drummer was tossing out. Pierce continued to scrub at his strings, while Coxon was the more experimental, scraping his fingers down the strings and producing some unconventional Bailey-like noises. At the centre of all this, Shipp was rampaging all over his keys, clearly relishing the way that the choice of instrument – and Noble in particular – was pushing him into places outside his comfort zone.

J Spaceman, Steve Noble, John Coxon

Peter Brötzmann, John Edwards and Steve Noble at Cafe Oto, 30/01/10

Peter Brotzmann

Just look at a partial section of the list of people that Peter Brötzmann has played with over the course of his career to date: Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock, Andrew Cyrille, Keiji Haino, Rashied Ali, John Zorn, Evan Parker…the very best of the very best. To that list can now be added the London-based rhythm engine of John Edwards and Steve Noble. Edwards was the fulcrum of the first two nights of Brötzmann’s three day residency at Cafe Oto, which also saw Tony Marsh, Pat Thomas and Roland Ramanan sharing the stage with the legendary German saxophonist. He must be one of the most in-demand bass players in the world, and he seems to relish the challenge of being dropped in against absolutely anyone, but Edwards’s long-standing partnership with Noble really seems to bring out the best in their respective games. That was to be the case tonight, with even the fiery Brötzmann at times having to stand back and admire the quality of their work.

It wasn’t obvious that that was going to be how it would pan out when Brötzmann opened on tenor, with the first of several torrential solos reducing Noble and Edwards to mere background rumble. The timbre was typically (and gloriously) ragged, with huge reed-gnawing vibrato and excursions way off the top of the instrument’s natural register. But it was when Brötzmann took his first breather that things began to change. Edwards stepped up to take a masterful solo, grabbing huge handfuls of string, and singing along to accompany his playing. When Noble joined him, he displayed the full wealth of his experience (he studied with a Nigerian master drummer, and played in a gamelan ensemble), beating the drums with his hands, scattering cymbals on his kit, and then launching into an astonishing display of African polyrhythms. The two knitted back together instinctively into some call and response phrases and lurching, abstract shapes that recalled Autechre more than jazz. It was a relief that when Brötzmann returned to finish the first half that he did so on clarinet which, even though he played it far louder than anyone else probably can, allowed us to hear the pair behind him. Some bent notes and exotic-sounding scales on that instrument merged with the drones of Edwards’s arco bass-playing to end the first set on a fascinating low-key note.

The second set was very different and allowed Brötzmann to demonstrate why he belongs in the premier league of post-Ayler saxophonists. It began with Noble lazily tapping out patterns on cymbals with the end of his drumsticks, and Edwards swaying with his eyes closed, before Brötzmann kicked the piece into a higher gear, wailing away on clarinet like a flock of panicked geese. The rhythm section locked together in a deep groove, rolling through to a duo section of tight near-funk. Brötzmann heightened the atmosphere further by switching back to some rasping tenor blasts, Noble and Edwards scurrying to keep up, before they dropped out altogether. This left Brötzmann to demonstrate that – as was the case with Ayler – behind all the storm and bluster resides a saxophonist who can really play. He delivered a stunning solo of growling melody and searing emotion, humming along in harmony as he did. The response from the crowd was rapturous, which seemed to humble even this most intimidating of musicians. His brief visit to London may be over, but I suspect he’ll be back before too long – not just because of the deserved ovation he received, but because there can’t be too many pick-up rhythm sections of the calibre of Edwards and Noble around the world.

Noble, Edwards, Brotzmann