Peter Urpeth, Olie Brice, Terry Day and Ntshuks Bonga Cafe Oto, London E8 4/5
IT’S a long way from Johannesburg to Hackney and when Ntshuks Bonga arrived in 1970 as a seven-year-old refugee from apartheid to live in London, I wonder if he ever envisaged that he would be playing alto saxophone some four decades on in a local jazz venue.
But that’s exactly where he ended up at Cafe Oto. Ntshuks was guest horn with the free-spirited trio of pianist Peter Urpeth, bassist Olie Brice and percussionist Terry Day.
As Day’s light brushwork and Brice’s sonorous, jumping beat unified with Urpeth’s gutturally super-rapid forays up and down his keys, Bonga’s battery of acerbic, vibrating and plunging cadences screeched and howled from his saxophone.
These were intensely free sounds, with the listener’s ways of hearing as creative as the inventions of the musicians. Urpeth is a tempestuous pianist, whose free thoroughfares of notes head in multiple directions simultaneously, while Brice’s pounding bass made the Balls Pond Road shake and Day tapped his drums with the thinnest of sticks, sparklers of sound.
As for Ntshuks, his addition to the trio sounded to me like the cries of the dispossessed, the uprooted or those forced to seek shelter in the bomb-ravaged cellars of their world.
A million lives poured from his urgent horn — rasping, gravelly, adenoidal and powerfully defiant as one free collective sequence flowed into the next — and we heard the voices of the oppressed and jeopardised, with the insufferable cries of their children.
All this from four London free troubadours, improvising in a converted Victorian warehouse in Dalston and, as Ntshuks’s horn pealed like a nesting bird during the opening of the second piece, you knew that this was music that could fly anywhere and find immediate connection to humans living their lives in all the desperate places of our planet.