From a strict aficionado’s angle, almost everything about Polar Bear’s new album (released a year after its Mercury-nominated predecessor, In Each and Every One) disregards the jazz-police rulebook: the tunes are artlessly simple, while improv simmers on the back burner, and there’s even a spoken homily about the meaning of life from Jamaican narrator Asar Mikael. And yet it’s every bit as sonically spellbinding and cohesive as In Each and Every One, gliding dreamily through minimalist sax motifs, electronic drones, world-music drum grooves and mantra-like vocals. Drummer Seb Rochford spent six weeks in the Mojave desert mixing the album with producer Ken Barrientos, and that experience’s invitation to musical mindfulness seems to infuse every track.
Of course it is jazz. It has been for the last (or first: it depends on how you see life) bunch of albums and things haven’t changed very much lately. It obviously has all the right features in the right place: the saxophone lays down the verses while the drums and the double bass provide the grammar, the musical syntax to which everything is bound.
Throughout Polar Bear's recording career, the only constant has been change. Sebastian Rochford and company have used jazz to explore funk, hip-hop, dissonant improvisation, EDM, rock, and more. Same as You was recorded hot on the heels of 2014's Each and Every One -- nominated for a Mercury Prize -- and mixed by drummer Rochford and producer Ken Barrientos in the Mojave Desert, whose vibe inhabits these tracks.
Drummer-led bands can be a thumping bore, but not when Seb Rochford is the one behind the traps. He lends this seventh album from the London avant-jazzers an unerring but playful pulse of gentle polyrhythms alongside Tom Herbert’s taut, dub-like acoustic bass. The urban electronica of 2014’s In Each and Every One is sidelined for a spacier, more minimalist sound, no doubt influenced by the Mojave desert where Rochford mixed the record.
If drummer and composer Sebastian Rochford’s Polar Bear were initially pitched as an innovative contemporary jazz act, it’s no longer quite as clear where this band sit in a genre spectrum. Rochford himself is notably open-minded and has worked in a wide range of contexts including with Rokia Traore and Brett Anderson. Few musicians are quite so versatile.
Following their 2014 Mercury Prize nominated album In Each and Every One, champions of British experimental jazz Polar Bear have welcomed spring with a sparkling new release. It’s only six songs long, but as you might expect from bandleader Rochford and co., it is as nuanced and thoughtful as its artwork by artist and writer Sanchita Islam, and will no doubt demand hours of listening. Opening track "Life, Love and Light" resonates simply and delicately like the gliding of an index finger round a wine glass for three minutes, and features a heartily reassuring speech from Asar Mikael, the owner of The Light Shop, a meeting place in Rochford’s hometown Tottenham for enlightened minds.
'You know, I should probably expand my horizons a bit' was the thought I had while going through DiS’s list of albums up for review that week, 'maybe I should go outside of my comfort zone. ' So feeling rather bohemian and pleased with myself I offered to review the new album by celebrated London Jazz band, Polar Bear. After all, I reasoned, they’ve been nominated for every relevant award the music industry has to offer, they’ve got a certain amount of crossover appeal, maybe it’s time I stopped dismissing them as the Mercury’s go-to ‘token jazz’ nomination and investigated properly.