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LIVE REPORT: Louis Moholo Moholo Quartet
Sean Kitching , January 15th, 2015 12:28

Sean Kitching reports on the Quartet's two day residency at Cafe Oto

Since its opening in 2008, Cafe Oto has played an enormously important role in championing and showcasing the very best in experimental music from all over the world. It's comparable to John Zorn's New York venue The Stone, in terms of its programming and is arguably superior, as there's actually a bar where you can get a drink, Oto was named by Italian Vogue as "Britain's coolest venue" in 2012, and made the recipient of both an Arts Council England grant and the first Genesis prize for arts mentoring. More so than any other UK venue, Oto has repeatedly made the strongest of cases for a renewal of interest in improvised and otherwise far-out music.

Regular residencies by the Sun Ra Arkestra and Peter Brotzmann (in a variety of groupings and guises) have been two clear highlights that have brought such sounds to a new generation of appreciative younger audience members. The other group most worthy of inclusion in such illustrious company is the Louis Moholo Moholo Quartet. Featuring the formidable assembled talents of Alexander Hawkins on piano, Jason Yarde on soprano and alto saxophones, John Edwards on double bass and the 74-year-old Blue Notes/Brotherhood of Breath/Viva la Black/Dedication Orchestra master drummer Louis Moholo Moholo bringing the beats, the Quartet's two day Oto residency follows the release of their recent studio album, 4 Blokes, on Ogun.

As wonderful as that recording is, it's impossible to replicate the intensity and near overwhelming beauty of seeing the band live in such an intimate and enclosed space as this. Despite the miserably cold January night, the room is close to full capacity. By the time the first opportunity for applause arrives, the audience are enraptured, reflecting back the heat generated by the glorious music onstage with a percussive explosion of clapping hands and ecstatic, whooping calls.

Within the realms in which they operate, this is a truly peerless group. They are so good that they push all the negative thoughts entirely out of my head and leave me buoyed up upon a sea of seemingly infinite melodic possibility always forming and deconstructing itself from moment to moment. They are so good that they (momentarily) make me forget all my words. If ever there were a band deserving of the epithet 'swings but also destroys', this is it. Strong melodic lines from classic tunes such as 'For The Blue Notes' or 'Respect' bubble up out of the chaos, but it's the improvised details that change from night to night that give the music its eternal, ever renewing and timeless quality. Yarde's saxophone describes abstract arabesques of sound and emits the eerily beautiful chatter and shriek of alien birdsong.

When not attacking it viciously with his fingers, Edwards' coaxes squeaks and drones from his double bass by rubbing its surface with his palms, and weaving a bow across its strings. Hawkins' piano playing, capable of creating both stirringly gorgeous tuneful fragments, as well as making vertiginously rapid runs across across the keys, displays an almost telepathic bond with Moholo Moholo's drumming. Underpinning it all is the man himself, his approach to creating beats so deceptively simple, effervescently bubbling over like swiftly percolating water yet liable at any moment to erupt into scattershot detonations, thrilling in their effects.

Taken together, the four musicians create an astonishingly fluid and closely interwoven mesh of sound that constantly pushes up against the physical boundaries of the space in which they perform - a moment perfectly illustrated as Yarde levels the end of his soprano sax against the concrete floor beneath him, squats down and bounces sound off it. Augmented by incendiary trumpet from Byron Wallen on the first night, and bass clarinet from Shabaka Hutchings on the second, the quartet never give up on striving to amaze both themselves and the audience. Sat in the front row watching the final, closing alto and soprano sax duet from Yarde and Hutchings - two of the best horn players the UK has ever seen - I'm aware just how privileged I am to be witnessing such stellar musicianship practically on my doorstep.