(The Leaf Label BAY 98CD)
Every Polar Bear album is a surprise, a fresh angle, a new and original move by drummer Seb Rochford and his loyal partners, Mark Lockheart, Pete Wareham, Tom Herbert and Leafcutter John, and this one is possibly the freshest and most surprising yet.
Firstly there is the surprise of it coming so soon after last year’s In Each And Every One (there had been a four-year wait for that one). Then there is the completely different atmosphere and sound of this album compared to last year’s.
The 2014 Polar Bear had electronic beats as its bedrock, Rochford happy to play a more decorative role; here the acoustic drums are crucial and there are dinstinct African and Caribbean influences in Seb’s unmistakeable sound and style. The overwhelming mood of much of In Each And Every One felt dark and industrial, it had the rising sheet metal, cold scaffolding, welding sparks and oily, watery reflections of a shipyard about it. Same As You feels sunny, dusty, warm and woody. The electronics are more low-key and usually used as atmospheric drones, and even the saxophones sound more organic.
The scene-setting opener is an incantation about Life, Love And Light, delivered with inspirational vitality by Asar Mikael, whom Rochford met at The Light Shop, the Jamaican cultural institution in Tottenham that Mikael runs, and he declaims against a quiet, nuanced drone.
We Feel The Echoes has a foreground sea of percussion against distant saxophones which gradually move into focus, then fades to gentle percussion and thrummed bass chords with another distant saxophone call from afar, eventually ending in the sound of gently lapping waves; The First Steps increases the African feel; and Of Hi Lands moves from another drone to a catchy saxophone melody over high bowed bass arcs and burgeoning percussion.
The grand (actually more low-key than that word would suggest but nevertheless monumental in its own quiet way) finale is Don’t Let The Feeling Go and Unrelenting Unconditional: the former with another vocal, a chant this time from Rochford, Hanah Darling and other friends which bookends a lengthy exploration by the instrumentalists over a hooky bass line and drum beat, the latter with highly atmospheric saxophone solos over another compulsive bass, drums and percussion groove. The chant finally returning to linger in our hearts and minds long after the album has finished.
The playing throughout is riffy, repetitive, and minimalist, much more closely connected with the African traditional roots of the music than with the jazz it was to become in America. It’s also remarkable to note how true this band has stayed to its original ethos despite diversifying so much in its range and sound.
Rochford worked on the production of this album and its mixing with Ken Barrientos in the Mojave Desert, a setting which certainly can be felt in this music – it’s gloriously and inspiringly spacious and airy.
- The band is touring again throughout this month, with the gigs in London, Brighton, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Barnstaple and Bristol. Their Birmingham date is at the Hare & Hounds on Tuesday 21 April, courtesy of Jazzlines. More of that gig here.
Categories: CD review