Alan Wilkinson / John Edwards / Steve Noble - "Obliquity" (Obliquity)
The Steve Noble (drums), John Edwards (bass) and Alan Wilkinson (tenor and alto sax) outfit was borne of absence. English free improv legend Lol Coxhill, unable to make a trio setting with Noble and Edwards at London’s Flim Flam club, acted as unknowing midwife to a line-up that, for intensity and embrace of the free jazz gestalt, challenges Wilkinson’s other trio with Paul Hession and Simon Fell. Would that more of our absences had such heavyweight implications: one can only imagine the impact the ‘missing centre’ might have had on other great gigs of our time…
Regardless, the fact remains that this is a necessary intervention in the ongoing development of English free playing. Noble and Edwards have played together before, as have Noble and Wilkinson (at Company 1987, at least). In typically roundabout fashion, I was turned on to Wilkinson’s playing via his tenure with Stefan Jaworzyn’s Descension, after which most any other music on our planet feels like a soft duck-down pillow to the head. Indeed, his duo with Jaworzyn, In A Sentimental Mood, set many laugh-lines creasing with its ironic title, though they were both on commendably restrained form for much of the disc - a restraint not entirely reflected in Obliquity, which, while containing some fine moments of push-and-pull contemplation, often roars like the proverbial.
Wilkinson’s instrumental voice sits somewhere between Coltrane’s walls of melody and Ayler’s high-end rendering. If many current players tend to dodge the comparative, Wilkinson goes straight for the money shot, but the obvious references only serve to reinforce the man’s playing acumen. If you’ve come to Edwards from discs like his duos with Mark Sanders, you’ll note he’s on pretty fierce form for much of Obliquity – loosened from the quieter climes he often maps, Edwards proves himself a fiery competitor for Wilkinson and Noble.
The latter’s percussion moves impressively from sorting-boxes-in-the-hall at the beginning of “South of 4” to more ubiquitous freedom scatter throughout the take no prisoners, opening title cut. The highlight, though, is the opening stretch of “Cuttin’ the P Nut,” where the players keep the volume low but the intensity high, pattering away at their various instruments with the energetic disposition of perpetually fidgeting teenagers.
It’s not like we want to play favorites here, congeniality being a far gone consideration, but Obliquity ultimately is Wilkinson’s show – he even slips in some choice, feral vocalizations on “Kwakm’bababli Stomp” which sit just the right side of unhinged. Here’s hoping this trio gets the encore nod next time they’re rubbing against each other on someone else’s stage.