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Mammal Hands: Gift from the Trees

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Mammal Hands: Gift from the Trees
At first glance, Mammal Hands may seem a traditional jazz trio, but their perspectives on the jazz landscape offer enticing and engrossing new directions. Gift from the Trees is their fifth album and shows a new maturity in sound and feel. It draws on influences from folk, electronica, modern classical and ambient to produce a fresh and enveloping sound. The trio—saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart (yes, they're brothers) and drummer/percussionist Jesse Barrett—all jointly contribute to the compositions. Jordan Smart uses soprano, alto and tenor saxophones together with bass clarinet. This opens up options for the trio's sound patterns so they can find musical micro-climates within their songs, outside what would normally be expected from a trio with this instrumental line-up.

For the first time they used a residential studio in Wales, recording over two stays and two seasons. Away from the usual studio time pressures, they were able to jam out ideas and focus on details. The results are intricate and intense and with a subconscious awareness of each other's playing. They take in influences including Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef and Steve Reich and there's often a Nordic feel to the album.

The opening track is "The Spinner." Nick Smart plays a fast left hand piano motif relentlessly repeating throughout the track. It's quite a feat of control and stamina. This allows Smart's saxophone the space to intertwine with the motif while Barrett shifts the percussion in unexpected directions. "Riser," as the title suggests, is one of the album's high points. It builds slowly over a piano riff and features Smart's saxophone at its lyrical best. "Nightingale" is a slowly lilting song with the main melody being played on the saxophone but it is easy to imagine this part being played by the fiddle in a folk environment.

The album centrepiece is "Dimu." This has a short preparatory track before moving into Middle Eastern influenced sax playing over the Smart's piano. The pianist then moves the track into the fast lane where the sax takes off over Barrett's tablas. "Labyrinth" starts with a punchy rhythm before piano and mournful sax combine to slowly build into a memorable melody. "Kai" is a late album highlight. Smart's sax rhythm swirls above the piano before taking the lead and the trio release the final melody.

Unusual piano structures, impressive percussion and lyrical saxophone have combined to produce an album of trio interplay that repays repeated listens. These are songs with a distinct identity with plenty of hooks, but there is also a lot of intricate details that are slowly revealed the more you listen. Mammal Hands are defying the standard jazz protocols and have something captivating to offer.

Track Listing

The Spinner; Riser; Nightingale; Kernel; (Intro) Dimu; Dimu; Deep within Mountains; Labyrinth; Kai; Sleeping Bear.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Gift from the Trees | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Gondwana Records

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