There were times tonight when it felt as though Binker Golding was inventing a new kind of music. He wasn’t, of course, not really. But by combining and recombining familiar elements, and putting them through the filter of his own personality, the saxophonist and composer was doing something that jazz has always done, often to its great and lasting benefit.
On the opening night of the 2022 EFG London Jazz Festival, Golding arrived at the Purcell Room with the music from his recent album, Dream Like a Dogwood Wild Boy, and the brilliant musicians with whom he made it: Billy Adamson (electric and acoustic guitars), Sarah Tandy (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass) and Sam Jones (drums). But he added a whole extra dimension through the presence of the singer and violinist Alice Zawadzki and the harmonica player Philip Achille, who fleshed out the themes and tags that distinguish a set of tunes taking their inspiration as much from the influences behind 1970s singer-songwriter music — folk, gospel, pop — as from the free and post-bop jazz with which Golding has been associated.
He started the concert from a different angle, with the band minus piano and drums playing chamber versions of songs he loves, including Carole King’s “Way Over Yonder”, the Smashing Pumpkins’ “To Sheila”, the traditional “I’ll Fly Away” and Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day”, all featuring Zawadzki’s pure voice. When Tandy and Jones arrived, the enlarged band slammed straight into “(Take Me to the) Wide Open Lows”, the new album’s irresistible opening track, on which Golding and Tandy soared in solos that built to ecstatic heights, with the saxophonist finding an unexpected sweet spot somewhere between Pharoah Sanders and Junior Walker.
Most of all though, it’s the pervasive sense of melody that makes Golding’s new music so appealing. The edge of hard bop is still there in something like “Howling and Drinking in God’s Own Country”. But it’s applied to the cadences of gospel and country, and to chord changes that come from pop music, including Motown, but all metabolised into something with its own organic integrity. Tonight Zawadzki’s fiddle and Achille’s agile chromatic mouth harp immeasurably enhanced these flavours. There was a hoedown mood to the music, a sense of joy, a freshness, a feeling that this was something you really ought to be dancing to.
* Binker Golding’s Dream Like a Dogwood Wild Boy is on Gearbox Records.