Photography: Glyn Akroyd

Polar Bear

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  • Leafcutter John
  • Dead Hedge Trio
Bam!Bam!Bam! @ The Kazimier 19/4/15

Tonight the über-eclectic Kazimier hosts the über-eclectic POLAR BEAR. A match made in heaven, you would think, and on the evidence of this performance you would be oh so right. Seb Rochford’s men cruise into town on the back of yet another critically acclaimed album (Same As You, their sixth), another, perhaps more reflective, mix of jazz, trip hop, electronica et al. Rochford cites artists as varied as Thelonius Monk and Sonic Youth amongst his influences and Polar Bear’s attempts to assimilate so many influences under the “experimental jazz” banner works because of their intelligent, sympathetic and passionate realisation of Rochford’s vision.

Supporting are locals DEAD HEDGE TRIO. Without preamble they launch into a set of complex rhythms and melodies that don’t end up quite where you think they will. Nick Branton’s playing is both soulful and forceful and Rory Ballantyne’s guitar work displays a mastery of styles, incorporating blues, flamenco and classical into a melange of jazzy riffs and sliding blues that perfectly play off Brandon’s elegant and ethereal sax explorations, the pair anchored by Michael Metcalfe’s delicate drum patterns. At times Metcalfe pulls up anchor and the whole sound floats free, all three musicians exploring the currents, before being pulled back into climactic whirlpools or serene mill ponds. Brandon steps back on occasion, watching Ballantyne and Metcalfe soloing, a smile on his face, and that musical appreciation, that joy of collaboration, shines through and throws a light on Polar Bear’s own modus operandi.

But before Polar Bear take to the stage, there is a solo slot by their keyboard/electronics player, LEAFCUTTER JOHN. His disarming, amusing chat has the crowd on board as he begins to play a light-sensitive pad with two bicycle lights, one in each hand, jabbing rhythmically, sweeping and soaring in a ballet which sees him attempt a premature demolition of the Kaz as a photo-sonic bass rumble shakes the building to its core. He looks up at the audience and laughs as though even he didn’t expect it to be quite that powerful. His second piece begins like the Clangers on acid before sweeping through an Apollo-era Eno-like soundscape towards a huge orchestral finale. The crowd is up for the challenge and applauds accordingly. Wonderful.

Polar Bear Image 3

The club is, surprisingly, little more than half full when Polar Bear walk onstage, but, as is so often the case, this proves to be the absentees’ loss.

The initial light, airy sax playing of Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart hints at the interplay and musicianship to come and is grounded by Tom Herbert’s big, juicy bass notes and Seb Rochford’s earthy drum sound, his floor tom adding a tribal, ceremonial feel. The band swing together into a funky dance groove before standing meditatively as John’s electro rainstorm takes us from crescendo to calm. Don’t Let The Feeling Go, from their latest album, contains the only vocal of the night, the Sun-Ra-esque titular refrain chanted over a funky drum pattern, the saxes alternately duelling, rapier sharp, or nestling together like two cooing, billing doves. You can feel the energy in the room rising, as the crowd, dancing or transfixed, begin to drift onto a blissful plane.

Unrelenting Unconditional takes them several steps further on that journey, as an extended, sinuous, dream-like sax duet weaves over a pattering Middle Eastern rhythm and gently prodding electronic pulse, building to a fiery tenor blow-out before fading gently, percussively away (Polar Bear for Psych Fest anyone…?). u Chotpot (‘scatterbrain’ in Bengali) lives up to its name, transporting us further East, with delightfully choppy percussion and dervish-like sax which sees the audience gyrating ecstatically. Polar Bear at the Kaz: a marriage made in heaven, consummated in Nirvana. Transcendent and beautiful.

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