# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Near Jazz Experience - Afloat

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 2 / 10 / 2017

Near Jazz Experience - Afloat
Label: Sartorial Records
Format: CD


A pair of former members of the Higsons plus the bassist from Madness doesn’t bode well for an album of jazz instrumentals, but be prepared for a pleasant surprise with the NJE's debut album

Formed in 2010 by multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards with fellow ex-Higson member and drummer Simon Charterton and bassist Mark Bedford (known to many from Madness), ‘Afloat’ is the debut album from this trio who felt the closest description of their music was a ‘near jazz experience’ which was quickly abbreviated to the NJE and gives an excellent indication of the musical path these guys have chosen for this project. There’s probably no foundation for this reasoning but it does come to mind that another trio, many moons ago, also used the word experience when naming their band and are covered here by the NJE. There is something about the way this trio plays, about the tightness of their playing together while still creating space to improvise that reminds the listener of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Maybe it’s highlighted by the inclusion of the NJE’s version of ‘Voodoo Child’ but it’s also obvious on ‘St. Leonard’s Suite’,the first track on ‘Afloat’, which might well begin with a ghostly, treated vocal beamed in from outer space, but it soon develops into the kind of jam that Hendrix was experimenting with and surely aiming for during his last years. So the electric guitar is substituted for Edwards’s horns but it’s in the feel of the tracks that the comparison is valid. There’s no sign of Hendrix- like guitar on show on ‘Afloat’, but it’s maybe the nearest thing we are going to hear of what might possibly have come out of those allegedly planned Hendrix/Miles Davis sessions. ‘St. Leonard’s Suite’ is a ten-minute reflective yet ultimately funky piece in which all three band members are given a chance to shine. Those familiar with the work of the Higsons will already know that Edwards is a musician of some worth and, while Charterton also shines brightly on this opening track and his percussion touches are mesmerising, it’s Mark Bedford’s contributions which will surprise the most, especially those who are only familiar with his work with Madness. His fluid bass-playing really is a highlight not only of this song but throughout the whole album. While it’s Edwards’ horns that initially capture your attention, it’s not long before the Bedford and Charterton are given the chance to shine. Charterton’s drum solo on the second track, ‘Diamonds for Breakfast’, is a highlight of the short piece while Bedford’s bass underpins ‘Songo’, the third song, brilliantly. Both musicians are far from playing second fiddle to Edwards from the off, but as the album progresses their parts become more impressive and are vital in the overall feeling of the album. The title track is simply gorgeous; trumpet led with piano flourishes it’s also here that Bedford’s bass playing is at its most impressive. Edwards’ lonesome trumpet may have centre stage but you find yourself following that bass, it’s addictive; only on repeated plays do you notice that the percussion from Charterton, subdued as it is on this particular song, also plays a major part, but so mesmerising is Bedford’s playing here it takes a while to really notice anything else. ‘Bongo Cut-Ups’ is one of the more funky pieces on the set. The jury is out as to whether the inclusion of what sounds like electronically enhanced vocal injections add to or distract from the track but there’s no denying that it’s another superbly played piece of addictive jazz/funk superbly performed by the trio. ‘St. Mary’s Suite’ is another long piece, this time clocking in at almost thirteen minutes. The opening treated voice counting off numbers is again maybe an unnecessary touch but the trio are, like on the opening song, given the chance and space to improvise and let the song find its own path. It’s uncertain if this was recorded in front of an audience in the studio or in a club but the voices of an appreciative crowd can be heard at times just seeping through the sound the musicians are making. Again it brings back memories of Hendrix and ‘Voodoo Chile’. Just when the song feels like it’s all going to fall apart it suddenly, briefly, all comes together again before exploding into chaos. Strangely it all makes for compelling and repeated listening. The trio’s version of ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ is a joy to hear. It’s not often with a song that Hendrix has either written or performed that any other artist can make it their own but the NJE show it can be done with their reading of the Hendrix classic. Edwards’ saxes replace the vocals and lead guitar of the original breathing new life into the song. Once again Bedford’s bass and Charterton’s percussive playing almost leave the listener breathless. It’s an imaginative reading and worth the price of the album alone. Maybe the biggest surprise on ‘Afloat’ is the closing track, ‘We Three Kings’, the carol we all remember from our schooldays. It’s another brilliant rendition and, although the first half of the track is instantly familiar, the trio add their own unique vision at roughly the halfway mark; without losing sight of the original melody they add their own stamp to the track and it somehow seems a fitting way to end what is an inspiring album, one that demands repeated listening. Think you don’t like jazz? Listen to ‘Afloat’ and think again!

Track Listing:-
1 St Leonard's Suite
2 Diamonds for Breakfast
3 Songo
4 Afloat
5 Bongo Cut-Ups
6 St Mary's Suite
7 Beachcomber
8 Voodoo Child
9 Acoustic Pts I & II
10 Knife-Edge
11 We Three Kings

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