CD review: Polar Bear with Jyager

Common Ground
(Leaf)

Reviewed by JJ Wheeler

Never content to sit still, Seb Rochford returns on the Leeds-based Leaf label, brandishing a vinyl copy of Polar Bear’s last album Peepers, a turntable and a willing collaborator by the name of Jyager.

In Michelle Mercer’s biography of Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist tells of receiving a package from Charlie Parker, years after his death. Amongst the items was a sheet of manuscript with the changes for one of Bird’s most revered tunes, but instead of the original melody, Parker had written a completely new tune on top. Similarly, Rochford takes the aforementioned release, tears it apart and creates something new.

For the majority of this record, beats and samples are manipulated to create driving rhythmic pulses and ostinatos for young Portuguese-born, UK-raised grime/hip-hop emcee Jyager to rap over. The song forms are fairly basic and pop-like, but the grooves are foot-tappingly irresistible. Despite all attempts at “getting political” (see Jyager’s comments in Leaf’s press release), the lyrics seem slightly immature and frankly quite dull. Nonetheless, the young rapper’s sense of rhythm and rhyme allows the beats to flow smoothly and his urban voice fits the hard, industrial sound of the record perfectly.

However, the most interesting part of this CD for me is the opening – the only part not taken from Peepers. Although it feels out of place, the complex sounds and rapidly moving experiments of Leafcutter John create far more interest than the following eight tracks. Maybe this is due to the nature of anticipation and the feeling of not knowing what is coming next, something the other tracks lack?

A word of advice – if you want to feel the full force of this record, you’ll need (at least) a decent pair of headphones or (better) a high-grade pair of speakers, appropriately spaced. The head-spinning stereo effects employed are totally lost on a kitchen stereo, but really add a depth to the sonic experiments – something yet to be extensively explored within jazz.

Many would suggest that this review should come under the title “It’s not jazz, but…”. Maybe so, but this record does encompass many characteristics of our beloved genre. First, the samples taken and manipulated are improvised. Second, most of the tunes follow a specific form (much like a Rogers & Hammerstein song). And finally, we hear the results of creative vision and output from an artist willing to stretch boundaries once again, embracing characteristics of other genres with open arms. After all, isn’t this how the music was formed in the multi-musical hotbed of creativity in New Orleans? Who’s to say this isn’t the future of jazz?



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