I recently made the mistake of confessing my relatively new-found appreciation of jazz to our esteemed reviews editor Loz Etheridge, who immediately appointed me GIITTV’s jazz correspondent and thrust a copy of young London sax/drums duo Binker & Moses’ second album into my inbox with strict instructions to review it. Me and my big mouth.
Firstly, it has to be said that if you don’t like jazz, then Journey to the Mountain of Forever is unlikely to convert you. In fact, it’s more likely to reinforce your dislike for the genre. It’s long. It has dreadful Roger Dean cover art. It has lengthy drum solos and atonal saxophone squawks. And it has track titles like ‘Intoxication From the Jahvmonishi Leaves’, ‘Gifts From the Vibrations of Light’ and ‘The Voice of Besbunu’ (when did jazz suddenly go all hippy on us? I remember when jazz records had cool titles like Straight No Chaser, A Love Supreme and Saxophone Colossus. They really don’t help themselves do they). In short, on the face of it it’s everything that The Fast Show’s brilliant Jazz Club sketches made affectionate fun of.
And yet, it’s bloody good fun. At least, side one, in which Binker (saxophone) and Moses (drums) jam as a duo and make a truly wondrous, funky old racket. Opener ‘The Departure’ sets the template, with Binker Golding’s wonderfully fluid sax riffing is underpinned by Moses Boyd’s heavy, hip hop-influenced drumming. The aforementioned ‘Intoxication From the Jahvmonishi Leaves’ is in fact a tight and filthy jazz-funk workout, while the lovely ‘Fete by the River’ adds a Caribbean lilt and is the most summery thing you’ll hear all, er, summer. And final side one track ‘Leaving the Now Behind’, with Binker’s warm, plaintive sax backed by a stellar yet at the same time inobtrusive percussion workout by Moses, pays glorious homage to Giant Steps-era Coltrane. It’s wonderful.
Side two adds a full band including tabla and harp, which sadly only dilutes the two main players’ telepathic mutual understanding. It’s largely freeform and improvised and rarely finds a groove, let alone settles into one, and only the loosely funky ‘Ritual of the Root’ tempts me away from side one with any regularity. But if you like that kind of thing, it is definitely the kind of thing you will like.
So, if you don’t already ‘get’ jazz, there’s nothing for you here. But if you do, then side one of Journey to the Mountain of Forever at least will give you considerable pleasure, a record rooted in the traditions of jazz whilst, with its hip-hop and grime influences, having one foot planted squarely in its future.
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