Category Archives: Polar Bear

Same As You: Polar Bear

Polar Bear Same As You

The latest Polar Bear album has been out for about a month now and it was to have been my contemporary album of the month for April but other demands on my time conspired against reviewing it until now. It’s even more accessible than last year’s In Each And Every One and I have enjoyed listening to it, both at home and on the bus and tube to work, where it has enlivened my trip through London Bridge.

Life, Love and Light Is an invocation which gets things underway. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Pharoah Sanders Impulse set and it is a meditation designed to set up a train of thought and take you somewhere else.

We Feel The Echoes moves things along. I like it but the backing beats feel somehow independent from the the gentle meditative saxophone improvisations. The track has a sense of calm, despite the pacy percussion. It is restorative music offering a chance to slow down your heart rate and let your mind go where it will.

The First Steps has a driving beat underlying it as a horn player contributes a simple phrase.

Of Hi Lands would not be out of place on an ECM album, which probably isn’t surprising as Seb Rochford recently worked on Andy Sheppards ECM debut Surrounded By Sea. The introduction is followed by a sax led, beat driven track which is how I would imagine may be like waking up while on some sort of bespoke safari to a place where unfamiliar sounds surround.

Don’t Let The Feeling Go includes vocals from Hannah Darling and Gar Robertson, while while Shabaka Hutchings makes an appearance on tenor saxophone. The track has a great and relentless bass line which is reminiscent of dub reggae and reminded a second set of ears of a visit to Morocco. You can take a listen courtesy of YouTube:-

To play touch or click on the arrow

Unrelenting, Unconditional is a long meditative track and is definitely in ECM meets Augustus Pablo territory. Once more there is an Eastern feel here, or maybe it is the influence of the high Californian desert where Seb Rochford mixed this album. There’s an enjoyable piece of solo percussion before we have a reprise of the Don’t Let The Feeling Go vocals to close.

So Polar Bear have produced another set which oozes atmosphere. Indeed, when it gets heard by the people who seek out and source engaging yet somehow brooding background music for TV there is likely to be a regular stream of royalty payments.

I hope to catch Polar Bear live in the not too distant future and if I do I’ll tell you about it here at downwithit.info

The band etc: Mark Lockheart (tenor saxophone); Pete Wareham (tenor saxophone); Tom Herbert (bass); Leafcutter John (electronics); Sebastian Rochford (drums). Written and Produced by Sebastian Rochford. Recorded by Sonny at Assault and Battery Studios, London. Artwork: Sanchita Islam. Released on The Laef Label. April 2015. Website: www.polarbearmusic.com

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downwithit.info Contemporary Set of The Year 2014

Occasionally, opinionated people come out with ill-formed assertions. They say: ‘Jazz is dead’, or ‘There’s nothing new to hear’. The downwithit.info party line on this is that they are not trying hard enough. They might be too scared or blinkered but one way or another they need to do a bit of work and, at the very least test their opinion against the market. That’s what I did this year, after listening to an excellent recent set from 2012 by RipRap, and I’m delighted to present our first album of the year, from a truncated crop of eight new sets.

These are the new recordings I wrote about. Each of them was issued in 2014 for the first time and all were recorded, either this year or in 2013. You can visit my review by clicking on the red titles.

Robin McKelle- Heart Of Memphis. March 2014. The only vocal set in this list- but what a wonderful soul voice she has. She has been concentrating on the French market in 2014 and I hope we will get to see her in London again sometime soon.

Polar Bear- In Each And Every One. May 2014. Electronica infused jazz. A brave set, justifiably on the Mercury Awards list.

Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard. June 2014. This trio led by guitar virtuoso Ribot go intense and free on a set featuring Coltrane and Albert Ayler tunes, but with a couple of ballads as respite.

Dylan Howe- Subterranean, New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin. July 2014. A labour of love brought to us via Kickstarter crowdfunding. Bowie’s instrumentals sound wonderful in this context. An unrushed, wonderfully executed set featuring some excellent musicianship and arrangements.

Blacktop- #One. August 2014. Disappointing Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas project featuring Steve Williamson on sax. Hopefully there’s better to come from this source next year.

Pharaoh Sanders- Spiral Mercury. October 2014 (1). More of an ensemble piece than an album dominated by Pharoah but it brought a taste of a hot night in Lisbon and is worth seeking out if you like this great saxophonist.

GoGo Penguin- V2.0 October 2014 (2). A light piano led set which was also on the Mercury shortlist but was slighter and less adventurous than Polar Bear.

Neil Cowley Trio- Touch And Flee. November 2014. Enjoyable piano trio- a good listen from a band to watch, with even better things expected.

And the first downwithit.info Contemporary Set Of The Year 2014 is…

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…Dylan Howe- Subterranean.

If I could only grab two others from a burning room they would be-
Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard
And
Polar Bear- In Each And Every One

I’m delighted with this crop of releases from artists, many of whom were new to me at the start of 2014.

Before Christmas 2014, I will be looking back over the older sets that I’ve brought to you this year in an on the shoulders of giants / dead Jazzer’s shoes posting. I’ll also be reflecting on the handful of gigs that I’ve attended- not such a bad list, come to think of it! In the meantime, why not use the comments section to tell us about your new album of the year, especially if it is one of the many that I’ve overlooked.

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Of Polar Bears and Penguins: 2014 Mercury Prize Albums Of The Year

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Polar Bear’s In Each And Every One which we took a look at here back in May is one of three jazz albums named amongst the 12 ‘Albums Of The Year’ and nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize.

Creatures from the glacial regions have certainly not been frozen out in 2014, as a second jazz set on the shortlist is V2.0 by GoGo Penguin. I don’t know much about them yet but the following comment invites a listen and I will report back here at downwithit.info.

Their second album v2.0 “pushes the acoustic piano trio format further into the future” (Jazzwise Magazine).

Sounds interesting, but I shudder on imagining what the London Jazz Collector posse may think of a piano trio supplemented by electronica.

Nick Mulvey’s Next Mind completes a strong jazz representation (although this album is more of of a singer/songwriter outing).

The overall Mercury Prize Winner will be announced on 30 October 2014.

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Polar Bear: In Each and Every One

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I’ve made a commitment to look at least one relatively new recording each month. So here we go with the third set by musicians that you may be able to see at a venue near you, should you choose to accept the challenge!

The traditionalists can roll their eyes in the direction of the moon and be dismissive- but here at downwithit we will attempt to be adventurous. As I will be pushing well beyond hard bop and even 60’s free jazz, there will be hits and misses, hopefully a few rubies inspite of a little dust.

This month’s choice is In Each and Every One, the fifth and most recently released album by London based, Polar Bear. I’ve been playing it for about a month, slowly trying to get a sense of things.

At the point of writing this, I’ve been pondering whether Polar Bear’s music fits here. Is it jazz? Well, yes, but it relies heavily on electronic sounds. What would Horace Silver think? What would Coltrane’s opinion be? Would Miles Davis find something new and refreshing in it? The question was answered for me, in my own mind, when I put on Charles Mingus’s Black Saint and the Sinner Lady after my last play through of In Each and Every One. Polar Bear are in search of something new and it is important to respect them for that.

The set starts with the aptly titled Open See, an introspective scene setter that I could imagine as the soundtrack for a modern dance piece at Sadlers Wells. Electronics maestro Leafcutter John is working hard on this one and, given his electronic expertise, an imagined three-way conversation between himself, Brian Eno and Miles Davis would have been an interesting one. It is quite a delicate piece that acts as a signpost which indicates that the rest of the album will defy neat categorisations.

Be Free is a percussion centred tune with saxophone that offers a nod in the direction of some of Ornette Coleman’s work. This is a foot-tapper, with a sense of a battle to restrain discord, that is just about won.

Chotpot strikes me as being a little too flippant but eventually it wins me over. It’s a long time since I’ve listened to Penguin Café Orchestra but if on a blind listening I were told that this was one of their tunes I would be easy to convince. There’s a great bassline hidden away in this performance, by the way.

All K’s and Q’s Now gets off to a frenetic start incorporating some engaging horn playing before it gives way to electronica that is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream (not that I’ve spent too much time listening to them). The track concludes with a brief and disconcerting passage that seems to sound a little like an electronic take on human distress. Not everything in Polar Bear’s garden is rosy.

I couldn’t find any material from the album on YouTube (although there’s some great stuff via the website link below), so I have lifted some live footage courtesy of Band On The Wall:-

To watch click or touch the arrow.

WW is an interesting noise, nothing more to these ears that are currently struggling with the beautiful but discordant excesses found on some Albert Ayler recordings. Lost In Death Part 2 wins me back with its possible resemblance to something that could sit alongside Bartok’s folk tunes. Once again, Leafcutter John plays his part and there is some great plaintive saxophone as it ends.

Maliana is a complex piece with several phases and what I perceive as a slight African feel, which is probably conveyed to me by the drums. There is a phase that almost has a Glam Rock edge to it- but don’t mention the Glitter Band! Lost In Death Part 1 Doesn’t have a great deal to commend it apart from some interesting bass but Life and Life unveils a splendid brooding theme evocative of storm clouds gathering and of Jan Gabarek.

Two Storms is a further soundscape: a series of scales and a melodic start giving way to what I imagine the death of a whale by strangulation and its rebirth could conceivably sound like before Sometimes closes this adventurous and pleasing recording with more brooding.

I’ll definitely try to see Polar Bear live this year if I get the chance and I’m certainly delighted to be able to write about the challenges that they present here. However, at this stage, I find their music a bit of a stretch from my comfort zone and for the time being I’ll content myself with what may prove to be a ruby but won’t be immediately breaking my back or pocket to obtain their back catalogue.

Incidentally, the set is dedicated: RIP Stan Tracey. A Wonderful Man

The band etc: Mark Lockheart (tenor saxophone); Pete Wareham (tenor saxophone); Tom Herbert (double bass); Leafcutter John (electronics); Sebastian Rochford (drums). Sonny (Sonny Channel). Produced by Sebastian Rochford. Recorded by Sonny at Livingston Studios. Artwork: Criag Keenan. Released on The Laef Label. Bay 90 1st April 2014. Website: www.polarbearmusic.com

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