Seeing as Polar Bear were born from an environment which has nurtured innovation and encourages deviation from constriction, it’s no surprise that they have consistently delivered excellent music. Germinated from the F-IRE (Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression) community of artists, this experimental five piece – led by virtuoso jazz drummer and composer Seb Rochford – build upon the values of their upbringing. While it can easily be argued that far too much emphasis is placed upon the need and the importance of originality for this case study to be the norm, it should still be pointed out and applauded as long as it isn’t merely for the sake of it.
In the same way as it was impossible to imagine an Art Blakey or Elvin Jones group without those two percussion geniuses, it's impossible to imagine Polar Bear with anyone but Seb Rochford on the drum stool. The once Mercury-nominated group's two tenor-sax lineup is certainly central to the meditative hum of its quirkily harmonised melodies, and the contrasting sax sounds of Acoustic Ladyland's Pete Wareham (raw, spooky, sometimes anguished) and Mark Lockheart (drier and more Wayne Shorterish) furnish plenty of contrast. But Rochford's mix of circus-oompah patterns, punchy funk with neatly-spliced jazzy offbeats and encyclopaedic world-rhythm references mean you could listen to this compelling set just for him.
When people talk about “experimental” or “cutting edge” jazz, most of the time, they’re talking out their asses. Enter Polar Bear, an experimental, cutting edge jazz quintet that actually deserves the hype. These guys are veterans. They have three albums and one Mercury Prize nomination (for 2005’s Held on the Tips of Fingers) under their belts, but with Peepers, they finally seem to have wrangled a batch of tunes capable of breaking past the critical underground.
A few years ago, a group of like-minded London jazz artists decided it was time for people to hear their music. They set up a label called Babel, headed by the mighty Oliver Weindling. These people shared a vision of music based on their frustrations at the jazz world. They saw both the staleness of 17-minute vibraphone modal harmonic solos and the self-indulgence of never-ending free-jazz improvisations, with saxophones being hit with sledgehammers and basses being played with table legs.
Talented musicians reworking the rulebook with hearts and minds at play. Louis Pattison 2010 Polar Bear sit as something of an anomaly in the UK jazz community. This is a band notable for their youth, but real knuckle-down players, not crooning heart-throbs; experimentally minded, but not regimented to the familiar squeal and squall of free jazz-inherited improvisation.