- Photo by Craig Keenan / The Leaf Label
In Each and Every One
(The Leaf Label)
Polar Bear's fifth full-length doesn't get off to the most auspicious start with a quiet, muffled instrumental track that hews closer to the new age side of things than to the jazz, funk, and pop with which I associate the Mercury Prize-nominated London quintet (sorry new age enthusiasts; that genre is not for me). "Open See" is a perfectly nice number, but an entire album of "nice" can get old fast. Fortunately, things pick up after that.
There's nothing wrong with easing listeners into a record, and that's exactly what band leader, drummer, and man-with-the-gravity-defying-coif Sebastian Rochford and his crew have done, since the next number, the single "Be Free," combines a sprightly, saxophone-led melody with industrial sound effects. It's the kind of song to make you stride down the street like a character in a Gene Kelly musical, and the rest of the album continues in a similar vein.
I couldn't say how much of the mix is live and how much draws from samples, but the results feel more organic than not. The tenor sax playing from Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart, which forms the center of each song, is particularly vivid (bassist Tom Herbert and electronic expert Leafcutter John round out the lineup).
If I had to compare them to another act, I'd cite drummer-led London collective the Heliocentrics, who have recorded on their own and with Ethiopian vibraphone player and Jim Jarmusch favorite Mulatu Astatke (their sinuous psych-funk collaboration Inspiration Information ranks near the top of my favorite records).
If Polar Bear had emerged in the 1980s, their output might qualify as acid jazz, but that term has disappeared for the most part (and never really caught on outside of the UK anyway). Now, you might call it post-jazz, experimental jazz, or something of that nature. It might not appeal to purists, but there's plenty here for pop and dance fans to enjoy, and I expect a parade of remixes any day now.