Interview: Binker & Moses

London jazz duo Binker and Moses

The debut album from Binker and Moses, 2015’s Dem Ones, has firmly established the duo as “the new sound of London jazz” (FT). Recorded live, in one day, it’s a remarkable, and ferocious, album from the saxophonist (Binker Golding) and drummer (Moses Boyd), who’ve been playing together, and with other artists, for the best part of a decade.

Since the album’s release (initially only on vinyl, though there are now CDs), B&M have won a MOBO (Best Jazz Act), a Parliamentary Jazz Award (Best Newcomer), and two JazzFM nods (Breakthrough Act and Best UK Jazz Act).

Now comes the real test for the duo: album number two. Due for release in May on Gearbox, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever is described by Binker as “a storybook, with a narrative, characters, places and hidden messages.”

BrumNotes caught up with Binker as the Londoners prepared for a visit the Hare and Hounds (30 March 2017).

Dem Ones was recorded in a day, straight to a vintage Studer 1/4″ tape machine – what approach to recording have you taken with Journey To The Mountain Of Forever?

The equipment, studio, engineer and process of straight to tape were the same for Journey… as they were for Dem Ones, we just chewed up a hell of a lot more tape because there were way more tracks – it’s a double LP. There were something like 48 tracks – not takes but individual tracks; we narrowed it down to 15 for the album. We love our engineer Ricky Damian – [he’s] best known for mastering [Mark Ronson’s] Uptown Funk. The sound desk and mics etc we used on Dem Ones were some of the best in the world, and they got the sound we wanted, so we didn’t need to change it for this album as we wanted some consistency. We spent two full days in the studio, from early to really late – Red Bull should sponsor us after this album! This album is a lot more thought out than Dem Ones was … Dem Ones was deliberately spur of the moment. The first LP is the duo, the second has features or multiple features on every track. The artists included are Tori Handsley on harp, Evan Parker on saxophones, Sarathy Korwar on tabla, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Yuseef Dayes from Yuseef Kamaal on drums and percussion. There were absolutely no overdubs, drop-ins or anything like that, it’s all completely real. For this sort of album we didn’t believe in using the studio to modify the tracks, but maybe one day. There were barely any second takes. We only did a few re-takes because some of the equipment started to pack up on the second day of recording. Couldn’t handle it I guess.

You’ve hinted that the album perhaps has a concept linking some of the tracks …. can you say a bit more?

You’ve done your research! We honestly don’t know where you could’ve heard that! We’ve been trying to keep everything under wraps, including the album name until the BBC leaked it. We’re gonna try not to give away too much about the concept behind the album and let audiences make up their minds & make their own readings of it. There’s at least two ways you could ‘read’ the material. But yes, it is a concept album and the music, titles and artwork are all one. To give a light description, it’s about a journey from the known to the unknown. It’s a lot more ambitious than Dem Ones.

What are some of the stand-out tracks for you personally, and why?

The duets I did with Evan Parker will always be special to me as he’s a hero of mine both as a player and a human being. There’s a track on the second disk called Echoes From The Other Side Of The Mountain, with Tori Handsley and Sarathy Korwar. I think that track came off particularly well. There’s a duo track on the first disk called Intoxication From Jahvmonishi Leaves … I like it ‘cos it shouldn’t have worked, but it did, so I see it as an achievement for us. So far from the ones that have been heard Fete By The River seems to be most peoples’ favourite.

You’ve known each other, and played together, for some years – 10-13 years now is it? What do you consider to be your, and your partners, strengths?

Moses has a good few strengths. I’d say mainly to keep a level head and not let problems, stress and things going wrong affect him/ us. As a result, he can often become the voice of reason in the group. My tendency is to lose it, so he balances that out. Moses also generally smiles a lot, which definitely balances out against me. He makes us a lot more approachable because of this. I’m almost incapable of smiling, despite being a happy person, more or less. I think my personal strength is to get the promoters to put more beer in the backstage fridge for the after party.

Did you have any drums/ sax guys in mind when you first started playing as Binker and Moses? Perhaps just drummers and saxophonist teams you admired …?

Quite a few. We’re certainly not the first people to do this. I think the recordings that ultimately made us go there were the duo segments of Kenny Garrett and Jeff ‘Tai’n Watts in the Songbook era, and the John Coltrane/ Rasheed Ali album Interstellar Space. The album Red And Black In Willisau by Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell is another great one that gave us ideas. There are other stand alone tracks like The Surrey With The Fringe On Top by Sonny Rollins and Philly Joe Jones,  and the second track from the Michael Brecker album called “Michael Brecker” where it starts with a duet with Jack DeJohnette – Syzygy.

Three major jazz awards last year – congratulations! What affect have they, and the earlier MOBO, had on your careers so far do you think?

They really had a great affect that we don’t take lightly. The combined awards put us on the map and forced people to pay attention to the group. We were both known at least on the London scene as individuals before that, but the awards combined with good reviews for the album and performances made people pay attention to us as a duo. We went from being the guys who made an angular, middle finger album … to the guys who you brought your girlfriend that doesn’t like jazz to the gig because you read about us in Jocks & Nerds or the Guardian. Either way, we’re still the same and didn’t change because of it.

You both have other projects outside of the duo, and work with other artists – can you say a bit more about your other activities?

Moses runs his band – Moses Boyd’s: Exodus – which has a number of EPs out and will be releasing an album this year. I also happen to be a part of that band, so you see we do spend a lot of time together. For me, it’s hard to explain what the Exodus does. You have to hear it, and especially see it live, in order to understand it. There’s a lot going on in that band and I can’t really describe it. There will be another Zara McFarlane album this year, which we’re both on. That should be out in the summer. I’ve also started leading a quartet again, which is something I did for many years and dropped for artistic reasons, but I’ve started up again but with guitar instead of piano. There’s a lot of delta blues, country and folk in the ensemble & writing. There should be an album soon with that also but its brand new so it will take a minute.

What are your plans for the coming months (once the album’s out)?

My personal plan for after the release and album launch is to get really drunk and then go to sleep for three days, as I’m already exhausted. We’ll be doing plenty of shows up and down the UK and in Europe after the album release. We’ll also be in the USA and Canada. Follow us on the Binker & Moses Facebook page and on Twitter at @ManLikeBinks and @MosesBoydExodus to get all the info. There will be too much to mention here…

* Binker and Moses appear at The Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham, on Thursday 30 March 2017. More details/ tickets.

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