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N.E.W. (Noble/Edwards/Ward) - NEWtoons

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Artist: N.E.W. (Noble/Edwards/Ward)

Album: NEWtoons

Label: Bo'Weavil

Review date: Dec. 11, 2009

Recorded live in London and Gateshead, NEWtoons is the third release by the improvising trio N.E.W. consisting of Steve Noble on drums and percussion, John Edwards on double bass and Alex Ward on electric guitar (and not clarinet). Confusingly, Noble and Edwards form two thirds of another full-on power trio which also records on Bo’ Weavil – Wilkinson, Edwards and Noble, with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson. (Mercifully, that trio is not called W.E.N.)

In another strand of N.E.W.’s experience together, Ward (on clarinet) and Noble are an established improvising duo. Their history goes back to Company in the late 1980s, when a young Ward played clarinet with Derek Bailey, with Noble supplying percussion. Subsequently, Bailey acted as a mentor to the youngster. Given that, it is remarkable that when Ward developed as a guitarist, his playing had few hints of Bailey.

Instead, in Camp Blackfoot, which he fronted with Benjamin Hervé, he showed more of a penchant for hard rock than improv, while the retro instrumentals of the quartet Pocket (with fellow guitarist John Bisset) demonstrated affections for the Shadows and surf music. Herein lies a clue to this trio’s music: although both are active and highly-rated improv players, Noble and Edwards each also has a history in rock bands – Noble with Rip, Rig & Panic, and Edwards with Kevin Martin’s God.

Consequently, N.E.W.’s music is an equal blend; it balances the freshness of freely improvised music with the controlled power and energy of rock, without relying on well-trodden clichés. Ward’s playing is central to the trio; NEWtoons essentially consists of three extended guitar solos. As a guitarist, Ward’s style is distinctly different than his work on clarinet. He has soaked up a wide range of guitar influences and is seemingly able to spin out melodic and harmonic phrases at will, just as likely to reminisce John McLaughlin as Hank Marvin or Thurston Moore.

Despite Ward mainly being in the spotlight, Noble and Edwards play roles just as important to the music’s success. Again, power is the key, as they propel things along with a thunderous barrage of sound that remains thrilling after repeated listening. Together, they fulfill the role of rhythm section, unflaggingly driving the music forward. Within that push, there are many rich details that reveal their improv experience.

By John Eyles

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