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Polar Bear: Held On The Tips Of Fingers

Chris May By

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The second album from Sebastian Rochford's group of young London anarcho-punk-groove-electronica-free improv upsetters is an even more thrilling and momentous affair than its predecessor, last year's highly acclaimed Dim Lit. It's the most radical, invigorating and heartening Britjazz album to be released so far this year and, even though it is still only March, it's certain to be close to the top of many end-of-year Best Albums lists in nine months time.

It is, perhaps, the sound of the future—one of them anyway—and boy, does it work. Basically uncategorisable, Polar Bear reflects the mega-eclectic, post-modern listening tastes of Rochford (who wrote all the tunes) and his colleagues, moving with equal enthusiasm through Björk and Beethoven, Pig Destroyer, Coltrane and his tenor legacy, Monk, Stockhausen and the ghost of Rip Rig & Panic. With some of Kurt Weill's crudely syncopated, rough edged, fairground-meets-cabaret pit band arranging aesthetic thrown in for good measure.

It is jazz all right, 100% and no mistake, but with bongfuls of left-field electronica and mutant, rocked-up and pfunkified groove spicing the free-improv centred mix. There's not a lot of concern with harmonic development—hey, the band is led by a drummer, and apart from Jonny Phillips's guest guitar on "Beartown" there are no chord instruments—but for aberrant and off-centre rhythmic and melodic development you've hit the muthalode.

Most excitingly perhaps, Polar Bear has reclaimed the in-the-moment, radical, "out" attitude that jazz pretty much invented, back in the day, and then has progressively lost, at least in some strands, as it has become an increasingly repertory-bound, cautious, and conservative music. Held On The Tips Of Fingers by contrast explodes with passion and exuberance, a hunger for risk and adventure, and full-on and revelling-in-it spontaneity.

With Polar Bear, Rochford—who with Pete Wareham and Tom Herbert also appears in that other great London zeitgeist band, Acoustic Ladyland—says: "My main aim is to make music that sounds new and has feeling." Polar Bear has done both things, and shown the way to a brighter future at the same time. The winner of an AAJ Stone Delight Award for joyful outness from start to finish.

Track Listing: Was Dreaming You Called You Disappeared I Slept; Beartown; Fluffy (I Want You); To Touch The Red Brick; Held On The Tips Of Fingers; Argumentative; The King Of Aberdeen; Your Eyes The Sea; Life That Ends Too Soon.

Personnel: Mark Lockheart, tenor saxophone; Pete Wareham, tenor saxophone; Tom Herbert, double bass; Sebastian Rochford, drums; Leafcutter John, electronics. Jonny Phillips, guitar on "Beartown;" Joe Bentley, trombone on "Beartown;" Emma Smith, violin on "Beartown;" Ingrid Laubrock, tenor saxophone on "Fluffy (I Want You)" and "Life That Ends Too Soon;" Hannah Marshall, cello on "Fluffy (I Want You)."

Title: Held On The Tips Of Fingers | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Babel Label

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