Live Review: Binker Golding, London Jazz Festival, King’s Place – 21.11.20

Even before saxophonist Binker Golding’s streamed show at King’s Place on Saturday night, we knew we were in for something a little bit out – there. The pre-show blurb had cautioned ‘expect the conventional boundaries of jazz to be pushed…’and came with a health warning ‘Please note, the ensemble will not be playing material from “Abstractions of reality past & incredible feathers” . So with Binker’s last solo album off the agenda and renowned stalwarts from the UK improv scene Ollie Brice (double bass) and Steve Noble (drums) as his co-conspirators, we knew that we were heading for gloriously uncharted territory.

That’s not surprising because we’ve come to expect the unexpected from the Golding, an exceptional musician who thrives on forward motion. Even his MOBO winning partnership with Moses Boyd is shaped by exploration, blurring the boundaries between studio and live recordings/ jam sessions and tight composition, in a restless pursuit of new jazz cosmology. Still, the radical complexity of free jazz can for some listeners represent a leap too far, a place where experimentation and alienation battle it out continually. So, with MC introductions done, there was an air of heightened tension as Binker Golding, tenor in hand, turned to face his fellow players.

Steve Noble started, stood behind his kit tapping the suggestions of be-bop on his crash, while Golding fluttered cagey sax phrases over the top and Ollie Brice dipped in with snippets of a bassline. In the tumbling stop/start conversation that followed there was a sense of the trio revving up, waiting for Noble to unleash that hyperactive hard rhythm and when it did come… whoosh! Against the hurtling beats Binker cut in with some frenzied repeat sax lines until, as he reached those temple busting top notes, Ollie Brice wrestled the tempo back down, swapping fingers for his bow ominously raking across the strings. The dice had been thrown and, as the trio shared gentle rippling phrases, there was a moment to take stock before their hypnotic interplay began to unravel again in an entirely different direction.

Attempting to ‘review’ the staggering performance, that flowed uninterrupted from this point over the next fifty minutes, is a largely redundant exercise. There are few common reference points that allow the standard ‘this tune followed that one/that part sounded like this band’ patter. Improvisational jazz of this intensity is more of a highly visual, physical and individual experience, exclusive in many ways to each listener. So beyond the continual fascination in the trio’s musical telepathy, some of my personal highlights were: Steve Noble draping tea towels over different parts of his kit, like a vaudeville musician, coaxing even more unknown timbres from his instrument; the passage when Ollie Brice made his double bass groan like the deck of an old ship; and one of Binker’s extended circulating runs that peaked with a wailing exuberance of Hendrix like release.

As a unit the band frequently delivered moments where fluency and connectivity blurred the boundaries between who was playing what-the whole sound was the thing. At one point they transformed an almost conventional rootsy section, where Golding and Brice traded sweet blues phrases, into a rampant, thrashing surge of extreme noise terror. Another time the trio conjured up a period of sharp skeletal rhumba where all three players traded the same fractured phrases in rapid succession without disturbing the rhythmic vibe. This was live spontaneous cohesion, Ollie Brice the solid foundation, Golding the flamboyant high-flyer and Steve Noble the orchestrator, a grand master of improvisational music.

After the session wound down with the players whispering brief lines to each other, Binker Golding stepped up to thank ‘all the lovely people’ at home, asked us to take good care of ourselves and parted with a heartfelt ‘Nanu, Nanu and all that sort of business’. From beginning to the very end the evening was in a different class.

Photo Credit: All photos courtesy of Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

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