Ward and Noble played an opening duo, with Ward on clarinet. He started blowing just the reed in its disconnected mouthpiece, and gradually pieced the full instrument together as the set progressed. Ward can play with the simplicity of Jim Hall, but prefers not to. He’s more persistent with worthwhile lines of inquiry than the comparably inventive saxophonist John Zorn would be, and Ward’s playing on the reed has many of the same qualities as the shot-blasted patina of his electric guitar playing. He not only applies his spartan, abrasive aesthetic with the prodigious speed and dexterity that’s necessary to keep up with Noble and Edwards, but pushes them to their best.
After his partners’ duet, John Edwards played a brief, mostly percussive solo set. The speed and discrimination of his choices were, as always, astonishing. He shaped silences within a suspended blizzard of percussive plucks, slaps and bow-grinds. His bass bears the scars of its use, which at one point allowed Edwards to play from a broken string stretch from one of the grooves gouged in its side.
Noble’s drumming was focused and rhythmically linear, both when accompanying Ward and for much of the main set, which the trio ripped into with the sort of scorched earth intensity that would make yr average metalhead blanch. As I noted in a March 2011 review for The Jazz Mann, Noble tends to be more direct in his approach with N.E.W. than in other improv contexts; less involved with textural sound-seeking through the arsenal of peripheral percussion at his disposal: all those cowbells, wood blocks, Chinese bowls, etc. Edwards is freed from any timekeeping responsibilities to entwine the percussive and electric attack of his partners with resonant, rebarbative low-end texture. This is music of dramatic variations in light and shade, but the overall effect is of scalding intensity and rhythmic drive.