Photo: Jacek Zmarz

Polar Bear: Same As You

Polar Bear return with a tense but accessible album.
Polar Bear
Same As You
The Leaf Label

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. There is no poetry without method and Polar Bear know it all too well. Take the long mantra that is “Don’t Let The Feeling Go”, with its subtle hint at a more spiritual sphere in music. It revolves and evolves around a simple percussive path; it emerges halfway through the song in a different side of the Orient, in that territory inhabited by the likes of Etran Finatawa, down to the plateaus north east of the Ténéré desert, where Tinariwen sing to the flame of Tuareg tradition.

But that is not all. One could sit and try to pick the different influences, if that tickles anyone’s fancy, but one then would risk missing the big picture. True, there is Krautrock all over the record, psychedelia is constantly behind the corner, but who cares? This is an album that flows from here to there without compromises or delving into academia. After all, if you know Polar Bear’s previous works, you are all too aware of its constantly precarious equity and that artistic precariousness has never been a problem. If you don’t know Polar Bear, then you’re in for a surprise, because drummer Seb Rochford has spent the last 10 years wandering in almost all realms of jazz with his ensemble. Caribbean grooves, Oriental textures and African rhythms have all contributed to making Polar Bear one of the most interesting (and prized) British jazz exports.

Same As You is minimalism in its most dynamic form; it is the album that has always been missing from anyone’s collection and one which perfectionists of jazz discipline will probably repel. The word “accessible” springs to mind, but then it is pushed back by the myriad of negative facets the term has come to have. Whatever your views might be, the fluid musical mix is such that the less accustomed will find their way through the saxophone solos and the all too visible improvisational roots of Polar Bear’s music. That is if you haven’t let Asar Mikael’s spoken word on “Life, Love and Light” put you off with a trite and a tad rhetoric discourse on, well, “life, love and light”. The patronizing element is soon lost behind the flourishing of “We Feel The Echoes”, whose canons work as an attempt to enunciate the musical coordinates of the album.

Simple, minimalistic, heterogeneous and captivating, Same As You is probably not the best work in Rochford’s discography. After all, Peepers and In Each And Every One have already managed to give us a band that is now — haphazardly — part of a bigger musical movement as a consequence of its own success. But if you want to treat yourself to great jazz (and Krautrock, psychedelia, ethno-folk and traditions), this is the album for you. The rest of us can only appreciate the great effort and wait for when the band will push the envelope a bit further. One can definitely hear that there is more than meets the ear between the lines of Same As You. The tension is latent but present nonetheless. The verses change with the grammar, and the phrases develop an elegant life of their own.

RATING 8 / 10
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