Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet

4 Blokes
Ogun OGCD 043

Rarely is there a 67-minute CD that zips by as if it actually lasts 67 nanoseconds. But such is the level of elation raised by 4 Blokes that not only does it move with supersonic velocity, but you also which there was more of it.

Such is the universality of improvised music that this first recording makes it seem as if the 4 Blokes had been playing together forever. That’s a feat history makes impossible. South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo was born in 1940 and was playing professionally by the end of the 1950s. While saxophonist Jason Yarde and bassist John Edwards may have been working with the drummer since the early 1990s and pianist Alexander Hawkins and Moholo-Moholo now play in a widely praised duo, not one of this all-British trio was born when the drummer turned professional; the pianist in fact is 41 years younger than Moholo-Moholo.

That age discrepancy makes little difference once the band hits, with the first track “For the Blue Notes”, named for the combo with which Moholo-Moholo first arrived in the United Kingdom. Edwards, who has played with percussionists including Sunny Murray and Steve Noble, sluices out such supple lines with his acoustic bull fiddle that it seems as if he’s using a bass guitar. Yarde in full ecstatic mode soars from squeaks to honks, while Hawkins’ dynamic glissandi go on unexpected routes while also locking in with the drummer’s driving beat. And so it goes for another eight tracks.

The saxophonist, who is also a producer and plays in duo with pianist Andrew McCormack, squirts driblets of reed intensity throughout the tracks He can create delicate placidity from his soprano saxophone, then turn around and propel tongue-slapping vibrations with his alto saxophone. Sometimes that happens on the same track as on “Something Gentle”, which starts off peacefully and ends up moving at racing car speeds. As for Hawkins, his command of contrasting dynamics and high-intensity Free Jazz-like pulsations is matchless. At the same time, as tunes such as “Mark of Respect” and “Angel-Nomali” reveal, faultless – albeit more rhythmically sophisticated – chording that manages to meld American gospel, songbook and C. of E. hymnals. That way Moholo-Moholo’s Cape Town boyhood, spirituals and pop song allusions are simultaneously evoked. “Mark of Respect” pianism is doubled by steady thwacks from the drummer, while Yard’s alto saxophone buzzes squeeze the line without losing the theme. With “Angel-Nomali”, he even comes on like an updated Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane interpreting a ballad: creating his own call and response plus the occasional reed snort, even as he keeps the narrative straightforward. Edwards own showcase introduces the title tune, rubbing, scrubbing and squeaking new emotions from his strings. How the four handle the subsequent build up and release leads to the brief “Yes Baby, No Baby” with Moholo-Moholo verbally egging on the vamping interface of pops, spetrofluctuation and peeps from the saxophonist and tremolo cascades and pumps from Hawkins.

Overall the four reach a communicative zenith on the nearly 16½-minute “Tears for Steve Biko”, with the dynamic, multi-fold sprint opened up to full expression. Crucially Yarde’s insistent soprano sax sequence undergoes a momentous transformation. Initially coolly slurred to lock in with Moholo-Moholo’s beats, Edwards’ woody clinks and Hawkins’ dynamic tremolos, subtly and smoothly the reedist begins hardening his tone. When it reaches maximum tumescence, it becomes forceful and passionate without losing any of the linear exposition that propels the tune. Cascading keyboard pump linked to rolling drum accents introduce a break from Edwards that decisively decelerates the ardent improvisations. The climax dissolves the narrative under the dual ministration of Yarde’s staccato blowing and Hawkins’ feathery backwards-running variations. No conference of a guru and his disciples, 4 Blocks is a program of high quality sounds by all four players and deserves a sequel.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. For The Blue Notes 2. Something Gentle 3. All of Us >/Khwalo 4. Mark of Respect 5. Tears for Steve Biko 6. 4 Blokes 7. Yes Baby, No Baby 8. Angel-Nomali 9. Something Gentle (Reprise)

Personnel: Jason Yarde (alto and soprano saxophones); Alexander Hawkins (piano); John Edwards (bass) and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums)