Friday, February 26, 2010

Polar Bear: everyone--WAKE UP!

Polar Bear (group)
Mark Lockheart (sax)
Peter Wareham (sax)
Sebastian Rochford (drums)
Tom Herbert (bass)
Leafcutter John (electronics)

If you are looking for the future of jazz, Sweden, Norway and England are places you should be right now. Polar Bear are among a long list of bands from the UK "collective" scene originating with two jazz communities, F-ire and Loop, that are truly reshaping the Jazz to come (that's me taking liberties on Ornette Coleman, sorry).

Polar Bear is the slightly calmer twin of Acoustic Ladyland (featuring two of its founding members), who released my favourtie album of 2009, Living With A Tiger. I originally discovered Polar Bear while waiting for a flight at Gatwick Airport. I was in an airport HMV store and found their first album for just 3 quid. I had read about them in a couple of magazines on my trip but couldn't find anything until I got to the airport. I decided for 3 quid, what the hell. It was the best 3 pounds I had spent on the entire trip and I have been a fan ever since.

Polar Bear may exist in a similar world as Acoustic Ladyland but they are carving out a jazz palate that is still adventurous but stays within the traditional idiom. Led by drummer Seb Rochford, the group is a formidable unit with staggering talent that grows with each record. They have recorded three critically acclaimed albums that are a must for all jazz fans. Polar Bear's first three albums Dim Lit (Babel), Held On The Tips Of Fingers (Babel) and Polar Bear (Tin Angel) all capture a young band that is inventive beyond its years but also one that wants to continue to push the envelope to see what else can be done.

Their 2008 self-titled album lays in some quiet grooves for emotional effect while still keeping their post bop adventurous edge as on as songs like "Sunshine" and "Leafcup". Then, there are great combinations of the avant garde and electronics as heard towards the end of Polar Bear with the song "Sounds Like A Train To Me". A truly original band displaying the creative tendencies you normally would see in an artist like Dave Douglas or Jason Moran, if this isn't Polar Bear's year to finally breakout in the U.S., I will be extremely pissed off.

The London based quintet, release their 4th album, Peepers (Leaf Label) on March 1 and it delivers a clear statement to the rest of the jazz community--wake up and start doing something new!

This is probably my album of the year. Yes I realize we are only two months into a new year but when you make an album like this, everyone needs to step back and take notice. Peepers moves open step ahead of their previous efforts. Peepers has a heavier sound and more descriptive elements as apparent on songs like "Drunken Pharaoh" and "A New Morning Will Come". The always reliable Polar Bear kinetic, experimental energy is still there as evident with "Scream," and "Want To Believe Everything".

With Peepers, Polar Bear have made an album that combines their distinctively British qualities, American influences and European experimentalisim into one cohesive vision that for me is absolutely phenomenal. Of the records you buy this year please, please, please make Peepers one them. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Polar Bear are also offering a FREE download of the titled track, Peepers. You won't be disappointed. And finally, check out their new video for "A New Morning Will Come."