Reducing a jazz band to only two components - drums and saxophone - is a rather bold move, and something unheard of jazz circles. But for Binker and Moses the gamble paid off royally, resulting in a MOBO award for their album Dem Ones.
Because it was so unusual, Binker Golding recently told BBC Radio 3's new programme Jazz Now that they never expected it to take off, and recorded the music as an experiment more than anything else.
Now this new, stripped-back sound has come to symbolise exactly what is exciting about the young front of jazz at the moment. It is not just the crossovers into hip hop from the likes of saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch, it is this raw and intense version of jazz that really captures the attention, as illustrated in our multimedia feature Reawakening.
Of course this would not be possible if Binker and Moses weren't such skilled musicians. They have honed their craft first through school, then college and workshops, watching, listening, moving on to live gigs around London. This progressed to touring with the acclaimed London jazz and soul singer songwriter Zara McFarlane, whom they had previously known through college.
In the below interview, drummer Moses Boyd provides a rare insight into this talent and what it means to be the drummer in a jazz band. As he describes below, the feeling of power is like nothing else.
Read our multimedia feature Reawakening here.
Do you feel there is something special happening in jazz right now?
Yes. But, as much as I love the genre, I think it’s even bigger than jazz. There’s something happening culturally and musically that goes even beyond jazz for people of my generation there’s just a really great boost and growth in creativity. Particularly in South London there’s creative scenes popping up all over the place. Jazz is definitely benefiting from that as well.
Do you think technology and the fact it is almost making it too easy to make music has influenced that?
I think it [technology] can help. Particularly here. I mean I can’t speak for America or other places in the world it’s definitely very progressive. So you do find great bands who do use electronics, myself included. I don’t necessarily I don’t necessarily think it’s because more people can become laptop producers. I think that’s a good thing personally.
In the media the perception is that the public don’t really know or have any idea of what is music and what isn’t. I think that’s wrong. They kind of devalue the audience. Nowadays audiences are a lot more astute than you think and are just tired of the status quo of boring music.
That’s now when Jazz comes, when it’s good, something so pure and you can see it because my generation have grown up understanding electronic music and particularly in London with all the music you can hear, audiences now are a lot more aware of what is good and what isn’t.
And I think that’s more to do with why it’s coming back as opposed to technology, personally.
Do you think there’s a London sound and do you think there’s a UK sound?
I don’t think there’s a London sound. I mean there’s people from all over. I mean a lot of my musician friends are from Manchester or Leeds or even as far as Scotland but no I wouldn’t really say there’s a London sound but I definitely think there’s a different vibe in terms of the UK and America.
America is great as well and they have a lot of progressive jazz and a lot more traditional jazz but the difference being a lot of the masters who did create this music are still there. Some of them are still alive so they’re a lot closer to the source so to speak. Whereas here we don’t have that, but we have something different. The UK is a lot more culturally integrated than America, so I find that British bands tend to be a lot more diverse, if that makes sense, musically and conceptually, in all sorts of ways. And that’s the big difference I think, maybe that does affect the sound but it’s more to do with a social-economic setup rather than musicians - why the music sounds different.
I read quote by Binker that said your music is a mild revolution against over-composed jazz with too many instruments. Would you agree with that and can you expand on it?
Binker can probably explain that a lot better! I love playing in all sorts of configurations of the jazz set up. But also myself and Binker have played in everything from trio, to quartet, to big band. There was just something refreshing about being able to play duo, stripped back, not having to worry about what the tune is to a degree. Very minimal compositional elements but still trying to make as much music and it interesting as you would when you get to see a big band and that was what we wanted to do. I wouldn’t call myself a revolutionary, but if you talk to Binker you might get a different answer.
Do you find playing in a duo creates a more intense vibe when you’re playing live?
Yeah definitely. We’ve been playing duo for a couple of years now and for the first time last week we did a gig that we actually stopped after each song and introduced itand had an interval and two sets. Usually we do the straight hour, or hour and fifteen, and don’t communicate. Not that we don’t want to talk to the audience but it’s uninterrupted music then we finish and it is very intense. But it takes you on a journey we build and we peak and we drop and the audience love it but also..I don’t know, it’s an interesting one. I never thought duo format would be as accessible. We were going to do it anyway. But seeing our audience and our clientele and our fans come and check us out, it’s really interesting. It’s been a lesson.
Don’t underestimate your audience. We’ve had all sorts of walks of life: people from the north of England come, young, old, black, white, all sorts - it’s great. Yeah it is intense, but that’s what you want to do! [laughs]
Any particular gigs or venues that are favourites?
Yeah - Jazz Refreshed at Mau Mau, a bar on Portobello Road [London]. That’s my favourite, well both of ours. That was kind of where it all started and I’ve played there with loads of different bands - it’s just always a good vibe. Kansas Smitty’s as well is a great club in east London. The bar is created by the band Kansas Smitty so they can programme nights and it’s musician led as opposed to business-led - it’s a great vibe.”
“Stuff in South London - an organisation called Brainchild and one called Steez these are creative hubs there’s a few things happened.
With Binker and Moses we wanted to play gigs outside of jazz clubs, for many reasons. We’ve played all sorts of places that you wouldn’t necessarily find a jazz group - gallery spaces, and almost warehouses. All sorts of walks of life congregate.
How did you get into drumming in the first place?
I learnt at secondary school. I was 13 or 14. Luckily the drum teacher there at the time, I don’t know if this still happens, peripatetic lessons, in the same way. He was a jazz drummer named Bobby Dodsworth Still plays now.
I was just that sort of kid. I was into football, I was into basketball, I was into all sorts of things, so when I got into drums everyone was like - OK it’s just another thing you’re into. But it was the one that really stuck and it surprised even me. But once I got into it, I just really really got into it.
He knew stuff about jazz, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, all sorts of things. But it was only when I got to to college and I met a couple of friends Theon and Nathaniel Cross, brothers, I knew them both socially because we lived in the same area and played basketball together. But also they were becoming musicians in the time I didn’t see them.
We both happened to go to the same college and found out they were trying to get into jazz in the same way I was. We used to go to Roundhouse every Sunday for a jazz workshop led by a guy called Leon Michener. And we trekked from Catford to Camden every week and that kind of became the jazz thing. Once we could get into clubs we started to go to Ronnie Scott’s and all sorts of places - jam sessions wherever we could for years and the rest is kind of history really.
How many hours do you have to put into drum practice? Is it an obsessive amount of hours?
At the beginning it was a lot of hours. I still love to be able to put in a lot of hours but just with life and time and noise it can’t always be done.
But early on when I was beginning, it would be a couple of hours a day. Once I started taking it seriously in secondary school no one saw me at break times or lunchtimes because I was practising. Or after school. I didn’t have a drum kit at home for years so that was my only place to play.
But yeah, at least two to three hours a day but once I started gigging it became and less and less practice and more real life performance so to speak.
Now I tend to practice more technique for an hour and keeping my hands in shape cos I gig quite a lot so that’s kind of my practice.
Can you describe the feeling of playing drums in a jazz band?
It’s everything man. Man I’m gonna sound like such a narcissist! It’s total control. Total freedom. I’m almost like the dictator but also the democrat. I decide, subtly, good musicians can tell, and know, that I’m the glue that holds it together, along with the bass player.
It’s a great feeling being a drummer cos you have to be inside every musician and be able to kind of glue it all together and see the musical piece as an overall shape and arc and sometimes you shape it and sometimes you respond to how the musicians want to shape it. But you’re kind of like the catalyst at all times.
People always ask me, I like soloing but people are like “sorry I didn’t give you a solo” but a lot of the time I feel like I’m soloing all the time because I’ve got to look after you and look after you and make sure this is working and push or pull the rhythm, so it’s a great feeling and a great responsibility. Definitely a high all the time. It’s a power trip really!
Dictation in the sense that you’re dictating rhythm?
Dictating the rhythm, also the time and the feel. If you listen to a song by Miles Davis with one drummer and the same song with another drummer, how the feel is determined a lot of the time is by the rhythm section which at the core is the drummer so a drummer has a lot of power to change the overall sonic sound and feel of any song at any given time.
A good drummer will understand that and be able to manipulate it. That’s why Earth, Wind, and Fire always sound so tight or you listen to P-Funk and it has a different feel. You listen to the Meters and how Zigaboo [Modeliste] is able to pull the groove back.
A great drummer can do that. And that’s what they’re meant to do. They’re meant to assess the musical situation on a macro level, second by second. Someone’s slightly pushing, do you go with it or go against it? Do you keep it locked? Do you build it here? Do you hold it off? You have to shape the whole thing. You’re like the master architect of the band or performance really.
Buy Dem Ones here.
Check out Reawakening here.