Thursday, November 08, 2007

Polar Bears Melt the North Pole

A special one down at Matt and Phreds last night. Polar Bear visited us up here in the dark wet and windy North pole of England. I saw this lot at the Cheltenham jazz festival last year and was mightily impressed so I was looking forward to another good one. They have such a distinctive style and sound that their particular Polar Bear vibe is established within seconds of the first tune starting.

What really impresses me about this group is that they manage to be very original and really quite avant garde and yet maintain a high level of listenability. There's no thick chordal instrument in the line-up muddying the middle range which helps, allowing the fast saxophone flights of fancy, grunts and squawks the space they need to be heard. The arrangements are frequently quite sparse and some of the horn lines almost childishly naive and simple, all adding to the freshness. A good example is 'Fluffy I want You', essentially a rhythm driven track with a simple two note figure that gets shifted and pushed about in various oblique ways. Dramatic changes of intensity along with gaping empty pauses all add to the curious plot.

Every player has there own unique take on their instrument. Band leader Seb Roachford kicks out a wide repertoire of styles from rockabilly, marching band and funk through to some classic swing and laid back blues with an upright indie band style swagger. Double bass player Tom Herbert gets full marks for being the first double bassist I've heard who manages to get every single note audibly across. He has a cool slightly shy funky feel as well. Both tenor sax players Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart combine the ability to knock out punchy simple lines and yet can get raucous at will. The sheer intensity of Pete's playing sledge hammered the audience into submission in the second set and grabbed the band some of the biggest applause I've heard down at Matt and Phreds in quite a while. Leafcutter John came across much better than I remember from last time. He was busy sampling his mandolin and Pete and Mark's sax to create sweeping echoed pitch shifted drones for the sax players to launch off from. At other times he was using a games console to trigger some electronic blips and beeps . This sort of thing can sometimes sound a bit random and incongruous but he managed to get it to sit in the polar sound perfectly on the whole.

More please!

No comments: