Dem Ones,
with its tantalising late-period Coltrane and Charles Lloyd flavour, finds tenor saxophonist Binker Golding best known for his work with singer Zara McFarlane and Nu Civilisation Orchestra in a stripped-down duo playing free with rising star drummer Moses Boyd. Golding describes the Dem Ones method:

“Well, I first met Moses quite a while ago. I think through Abram Wilson and we became friends from the get go. Since then we’ve played in a number of groups together, most consistently Zara McFarlane’s band. So we’ve been on the road with Zara quite a bit the last few years which has given Moses and I a lot of time to experiment between soundcheck and performance. So we’d often play duo when we had that moment free and practise certain things. Over time the ideas we practised, evolved and moulded into things, things that we developed into complete pieces of music. We then decided we should start doing duo performances to see if we could make sense of it in a performance context. We did that for a while, deemed it as a good idea, then a short while later Gearbox Records approached us with the idea of making an album after they heard some demos we recorded and put online.

“The tunes started as simple ideas. Perhaps a certain riff, scale or rhythmic pattern and over time they developed into what you hear on the album now. We added and subtracted a lot of things to and from them.They’re not compositions as such, but templates for improvisation we constructed over time. The core idea for a particular tune would be the same from performance to performance to recording, but the treatment of the idea changes the more we get familiar with it. We explore it, then the next time we perform we pick up from where we left off, we don’t start afresh again. So the pieces are never the same. The recording is only a documentation of where we were at that point in time in dealing and evolving with those particular pieces. If you heard us play them now you’ll see they’ve changed slightly again. All jazz is like that to an extent, but that aspect is one of the main focuses with our ensemble. “Our ‘compositional’ process was to agree on ideas and sounds, rhythms and modes and go somewhere with them.

Black Ave Maria from Dem Ones. NB if easily offended don’t watch

“The album will be downloadable as well as being on vinyl, but there will be no in-between. Firstly, that’s the way they have it at Gearbox. Secondly, I quite like that. Reasons being, I’m told that vinyl is the only type of music hardware where the sales are actually going up, so that’s good. Also, vinyl forces you to listen I’d say. CDs are good and I loved and still love tapes but vinyl requires effort. First of all, if you have a record player you’re probably serious about listening to music.Then the average person who has a record player probably only has one in their house, so you can’t just throw it on in any room, for example the kitchen when you’re washing the dishes. The record players probably in your main room. You’re more likely to just sit down and listen and focus on the music, which is important with any music, but perhaps more so with a record that’s just 40 minutes of saxophone and drums. Also, you can’t play vinyl in the car.

‘In regards to liberation I’d say we started this ensemble for liberation. In my mind it’s a mild rebellion against jazz which is over composed with perhaps one or two too many instruments’

“Now the reason that I bring that up is because a while back I read that you’re more likely to crash listening to jazz music than any other style of music. Now I take music seriously, but I don’t want anyone dying over a fucking record. Also music seems to be sort of moving into an age where people are perhaps subconsciously perceiving it as disposable. You can get it free on YouTube or Spotify and people are sampling other people’s music without them realising and I could go on. Personally, I’d like to see all of that get reversed. We want to sell a lot of records if possible (I’m not gonna lie, I want money too), but I don’t want to sell music that people aren’t really going to listen to. If our contract had been ‘download only’ I wouldn’t have signed the deal. Downloads are useful and you have to move with the times, but if I had it my way they wouldn’t exist. One of the reasons why I like tapes so much is the fact that they have sides. As a kid when I only listened to tapes I’d always have a side which I preferred and it seemed like you got a sensation of the album having more of a form, because turning the tape over was an intermission. Vinyl has that, which I really like. If I had it my way, we’d release the album only on vinyl and cassette tape, no joke.

Interstellar Space was a definite influence for me personally. There’s only one track on the album which I would say resembles the aesthetic nature of the music on Interstellar, but it was an inspiration for me throughout the whole thing. Another was Charles Lloyd’s recordings of just saxophone, drums and percussion. Some of my favourite saxophonists and drummers play duo at certain points in their more intense numbers. Branford Marsalis and Kenny Garrett both did it with Tain [Jeff chiefTain Watts] at certain points and of course that whole thing started with Coltrane and Elvin. Both myself and Moses love what they all do.

“It’s probably the freest thing I’ve recorded in a way. But I personally consider it to be a lot less free than what I think people will make of it. There’s a lot of tonality (more accurately modality) on the record and rhythmically I think it’s accessible too, but it has that element of forcing people to listen because of the instrumentation.There are two tracks (I think the last on each side) that I would have to describe as free. I don’t want to get too twat-ish with my words & start justifying how in my mind those two tracks aren’t really free.The fact is that regardless of how Moses and I were thinking on those two tracks it will hit the ear of the listener as being free.

“It was very challenging. Simple in the sense that we knew what we wanted to do and how it should sound, but challenging in the same way that the gigs we do are challenging, meaning we want it to sound like music and not two musicians practising and that’s harder given the instrumentation. It helps that Moses and I are on the same page. If we weren’t it would be an utter nightmare. I think in this circumstance the musicians have to be practically custom-made for each other. In regards to liberation I’d say we started this ensemble for liberation. In my mind it’s a mild rebellion against jazz which is over composed with perhaps one or two too many instruments. So we said: ‘We’ll practically get rid of all the instruments and strip it down and improvise rather than compose.’ The stripped down nature of it is one of the main attractions for us. Communication is very different when it’s just between two people.

“If I remember correctly JEEP stands for “just enough essential parts”. Now Jeeps can be as ugly as fuck, but they get the job done and they can withstand anything. In composition class I learnt god knows how many ways to make a piece of music more beautiful with the use of multiple instruments, voicings, certain harmonies etc but for whatever reason simplicity, strip down and ugliness have found me, so perhaps the music or ensemble is a musical equivalent of a Jeep.”

Binker Golding, above.

Interview: Stephen Graham