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Music Review Joe McPhee, Paal Nilssen-Love and Black Top, Cafe Oto, London

Intoxicating improvisation from a quartet with a global reach

AN AMALGAM of origins is on show at Cafe Oto as these four boundary-breaking musicians take the stage.

Pianist Pat Thomas and vibraphonist Orphy Robinson — the duo of Black Top — are London-based but with deep Caribbean connections to Antigua and Jamaica. Multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, who’s been making audacious and rebellious records since 1968, lives in New York state, while some thunderous percussive subtlety is provided Norway’s Paal Nilssen-Love.

McPhee opens by respiring into his pocket trumpet as if it’s the first breath of his life. Nilssen-Love’s drumscape gradually grows cyclonic, while Thomas alternates between trenchant piano chords and the electronics of his whining, whistling Moog theremini and Robinson’s flying mallets pummel his xylosynth and his hands address the box he sits on.

At times catatonic, at times tender, the sound is always free and exploratory. As McPhee’s richly guttural tenor saxophone blows with huge force and invention, snatches of sheer melody can still be heard, with songbook ballads like Sometimes I Love You leaping almost instantaneously from somewhere within the improvisation.

It’s as if the internationalist roots of all music and musicians winds around the room — all sound runs in the veins of this most worldly of quartets and their creative fire excites the spirit.


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