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The NJE: Afloat

Gareth Thompson By

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When a jazz act takes on Jimi Hendrix, you know they do not lack for confidence. Are they experienced? They certainly are, for The NJE (Near Jazz Experience) is led by saxophonist Terry Edwards, whose many credits include Keziah Jones, Tom Waits and P J Harvey.

The NJE trio tackles Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" with aplomb on their Afloat album. The main riff sounds obviously familiar, but Edwards takes it to a more cosmic place yet. Mimicking the guitarist's frenzied notes and melodic fills, it's a mischievous tribute wherein The NJE plays The JHE.

Joining brass supremo Edwards are bassist Mark Bedford, formerly of ska band Madness, and drummer Simon Chatterton. Together they sound like an act from the rockier side of town who blundered into Jazzville and took up residency. Afloat is even part-produced by Alexis Taylor of British alt-dance act Hot Chip. So what we get are polyrhythmic grooves and a raw garage vibe, all bound up with tunes and atmosphere.

The opener "St Leonards' Suite" begins with electronica and beguiling cymbals, before Edwards employs his double-saxophone technique. Short stabs of melody burst out like jets of flame, then just as quickly subside. It makes for ten minutes of warm intrigue, followed by "Diamonds For Breakfast," which cuts in with staccato blowing as Bedford's bass bobs cautiously.

There's hardly a breath before "Songo" offers a swirling melody that's as much pop as bop. The title track smoulders with a smoky lilt, its piano chords rippling like waves at low tide. Then the snaky snares of "Bongo Cut-Ups" underpin a "saxy" series of low licks and high squeals, as if testing the range of our senses.

Mostly devoid of overdubs, Afloat allows all three players room for expression. With much historical precedence here—from Sonny Rollins to Joe Henderson to Joshua Redman—this sax/bass/drums set-up revels in its own spaciousness.

On a record with several apt titles, the abrasive "Knife-Edge" gives a streetwise punch in the mode of Led Bib. "St Mary's Suite" relaxes into sweet blues, using a mix of reed instruments, until things turn manically improvised to the edge of discordance. "Beachcomber" is a welcome oddity that swoons with mystic fever, using the melodica to sweep its chords over a deft backing.

Appropriately for Edwards, who first dug jazz via a cool-looking Earl Bostic album cover, "Acoustic Pt. 1&2" swings in some soulful R&B. Finally, a shuffling take on the carol "We Three Kings" makes for a playful closer where the melody's eastern slant is teased out.

For a band who claim they never rehearse, but perform by intuition, The NJE offers a seductive fusion of artistry and impulse.

Track Listing: St Leonards' Suite; Diamonds For Breakfast; Songo; Afloat; Bongo Cut-Ups; St Mary's Suite; Beachcomber; Voodoo Child; Acoustic Pt. 1&2; Knife Edge; We Three Kings.

Personnel: Terry Edwards: Saxophone; Mark Bedford: Bass; Simon Chatterton: Drums.

Title: Afloat | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sartorial Records

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