By Gareth Stevens 

Near Jazz Experience were never a consequence of premeditation. Like the improvised set that they performed at Kino-Teatr on a March Saturday, the band just happened.

Just over ten years ago experienced musical peers Terry Edwards, Mark Bedford and Simon Charterton were asked to provide some music at Indo Bar in Whitechapel and so inadvertently NJE came into existence.

Talking with the band before the show it is evident that they have a very clear idea of what NJE are about. If their music were a cocktail then it would be easier to appraise the overall taste rather than to itemise the ingredients. True, the way the music is stripped back and sparse points to a love of Dub (after all they have collaborated with Adrian Sherwood in the past). Charterton’s love of Krautrock is discernible in various compositions – at times it sounds as if Can have gone shot drinking with Sonny Rollins.

CREDIT: Mark Bedford 

I want to say that there are whiffs of Middle Eastern and Asian devotional music in the mix – especially when Edwards doubles up by playing both alto and tenor sax simultaneously. The sound is interminably reedy and the harmonies less western. Whilst I think I would be right to say this, it doesn’t go far enough. As the set goes on I begin to realise that this is devotional music. As the set develops NJE weave an inescapably hypnotic charm that, dare I say it, borders on the spiritual.

What is demonstrably true both in our discussion and throughout their performances, is that this band doesn’t let ego get in the way; there are no histrionics on show here – only a deep sense of mutual respect and synergy.

Most of the compositions begin with Charterton expertly pro-gramming his Korg Wavedrum or tentatively laying down a humble yet deceptively powerful groove. Bedford’s bassline would then join the fray and remind me to dig those Leland Sklar and Jah Wobble cuts out when I got home. His playing is immense and the level of alignment between bass and drums was such that at times it was hard to believe that the groove came from more than one organism.

Edwards plays the tenor saxophone with an Earl Bostic ballsiness that is rare and it is unsurprising that his services have been used by such luminaries as Tom Waits and PJ Harvey. An astute use of melodica, various effects, a pocket trumpet went way beyond affectation and elevated each composition to where it seemed preordained to be. There was no fucking around here. Despite an emphatic focus on improvisation the music is precise with no superfluous flurries or grandstand noodling. 

During the more lenient phases of lockdown the band were able to rehearse at Kino whilst it was closed and, I suspect, hone their approach to improvisation. With respect I think that they have developed their interplay and communication to a point where the music is less spontaneous than they would have us think. Far from being a criticism, this has enabled them to fuse impulse with pre-planned compositions to reach a delectable sweet spot. 

If this gig was a near jazz experience, then it had the kind of proximity I love. It was close enough to jazz to extract its essence without pandering to any beard stroking fussiness or cliché. 

I must make mention of Oliver Cherer who opened with a fine set of hymnic songs that were composed in a fresh and original way. His lyrics were intriguing and, in combination with his Wyattesque voice, reminded me of the great Richard Dawson.

Hats off too to Duncan Reekie who provided the projected visuals for the whole evening. His forensic filmic crate digging enabled him to produce a fine visual accompaniment to the sounds.

The soul-fuelled records that DJ Wendy May played that evening were that good they should be made illegal. And if they were I would certainly be first in line to confiscate them.

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