Polar Bear, led by Scottish percussionist and composer Seb Rochford, has been a major creative force since its formation in 2003. The band has extended its popularity beyond the narrow borders of the jazz scene, has been a strong influence on the new wave of young British jazz musicians, and has journalists reaching enthusiastically for categories into which it can be neatly slotted. Readily defying attempts to be pigeonholed, Peepersthe band's fourth albumis a stunningly enjoyable collection by one of the most talented, adaptable and surprising groups in jazz. Its 12 tracks demonstrate the breadth of Rochford's writing, as well as the ease with which the musicians can move between moods and styles. By turns the tunes are joyous, funky, freeform, sad, mysterious and, frankly, a bit scary.
The album begins in joyous mood, with "Happy for You," written to celebrate the arrival of saxophonist Pete Wareham's newborn baby. This mood continues through "Bap, Bap, Bap," with a deceptively simple staccato sax line that starts, unsurprisingly, with the twin tenors of Wareham and Mark Lockheart going "Bap, Bap, Bap." "Hope Every Day is a Happy New Year" finds Rochford seemingly hitting everything in the studio, while Leafcutter John adds some springy and uplifting effects as bassist Tom Herbert holds it all together. "The Love Didn't Go Anywhere" brings a more sombre mood with its beautifully atmospheric but unrelentingly sad tenor duet. The scariness comes mainly from two short improvisations, "Bump" and "Scream," both of which are credited as group compositions.
The more mysterious aspects of Peepers are found on "Want to Believe Everything"with its wonderfully loose groove, courtesy of Rochfordand the strange and wonderful "Finding Our Feet," whose Middle Eastern vibe comes from Leafcutter John's sampled and altered vocals. Both tunes have a timeless and otherworldly quality to them.
Previous Polar Bear albums have augmented the quintet with guest instrumentalists and singers; Peepers needs no such augmentation. Rochford's imaginative compositions are driven admirably by his bandmates, whose shared musical understanding enabled the entire album to be recorded in two sessions, with a real feeling of spontaneity and pleasure. Peepers is the finest Polar Bear album yet, which makes it a very fine recording indeed.
Happy for You; Bap Bap Bap; Drunken Pharaoh; The Love Didn't Go Anywhere; A New Morning Will Come; Peepers; Bump; Scream; Hope Every Day is a Happy New Year; Want to Believe Everything; Finding our Feet; All Here.
Pete Wareham: tenor sax; Mark Lockheart: tenor sax; Tom Herbert: double-bass; Leafcutter John: electronics, guitar; Sebastian Rochford: drums.
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