Afloat in Dub – The NJE (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Besides having a brilliant name, The Near Jazz Experience make brilliantly original music. As the name suggests, their springboard is a contemporary jazz core but the prefix “near” cleverly explains their desire to warp those familiar sounds into new and fascinating shapes, shapes that are often prog, rock and even punk shaped. 

A chance to open a show headlined by Asian Dub Foundation (and in keeping with the strange world they work in featured snooker legend Steve Davis as house DJ,) an offer from BBC 6 Music to record a Maida Vale session for a dub themed weekend of music and the chance to work with On-U Sound producer Adrian Sherwood all provided the elements that have ended up as this Record Store Day release. One side of the new offering is from the Gideon Coe featured session, the other side sees radical remixing  and Sherwood’s magic dub touch being applied to tracks from their debut album Afloat.

And the result is NJE doing what they do best, free-form, jazz-driven instrumentals but this time re-worked to dovetail into the dub sonic pallette. Even when they are re-imagining Hendrix’s Voodoo Child, and it is worth buying for that alone…and that’s coming from a guy who usually bemoans covers…they wander into their own musical otherworld and explore the possibilities of the song enough to make this version well and truly their own.

It is fruitless to review such an album as I might a more regular, straight forward song focused offering, this really is the sound of three amazing musicians exploring where, what and how their music might be. It feels improvised yet never wanders into the realms of indulgence, it is deft and dynamic but clever enough to follow grooves rather than anything as boorish as showboatery and it is original in the extreme, but then again I’m sure if they recorded the tracks again then it would sound different anyway.

And maybe that is the answer, that music isn’t about sonic museums, about recording tracks to be delivered to the audience verbatim night after night. Maybe music should be about capturing a moment in time, a unique experience. So if you go to one of their shows expecting to hear a faithful rendition of the album you have recently bought you will undoubtedly be disappointed. However that disappointment will be short lived as you find yourself cocooned in your own unique and fleeting sonic experience.

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