Friday, 18 March 2011

HearHere presents: Polar Bear with Jyager @ Sound Control, Wednesday 16th March 2011

I’ll get it out of the way at the start, Seb Rochford has a lot of hair, a veritable mane of hair. There, I said it, no need to mention it again, because from here on in, it’s all about the music.

Support comes from Sheffield’s King Capisce, comprising of a guitar, bass, drums rhythm section and fronted by dual saxophones, but they go far beyond what you’d assume from a jazz quintet line up. Their melting pot of influences makes for a delightful mix, moulding Battles-inspired math-rock riffs and psychedelic Mars Volta-esque noodlings alongside duelling saxes reminiscent of early Polar Bear. They are clearly talented musicians and the intelligent use of dynamics and groove display their abilities, new single ‘If Not Now, Then When?’ is a highlight - and well worth checking out - but as with many musical equations, this band doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. The talent is certainly there, but the performance is missing that extra something, a little excitement or dynamism from the group as a whole. There is great potential here and they are definitely worth keeping an eye on to see what they can produce through developing as a band.

The mature crowd slowly eases its way forward and welcomes Seb Roachford’s Polar Bear to the stage with warm applause, but who’s this baseball cap toting chap striding on stage? It’s Polar Bear’s latest addition, London-based rapper Jyager. It’s clear from the start that he’s going to be running the show, stealing some whoops and waves from the crowd between songs; he’s intent on having a good time and it’s easy to see why. The band onstage with him is a rapper’s delight, crafting tight grooves and melodies upon which his slick and rhythmic lyrical flow thrives. Playing all the hits from latest collaborative album Peepers, Polar Bear and Jyager are a delight to watch; each musician complementing the other as the tastiest of drum grooves, smooth guitar licks, delightfully melodic sax squawks and syncopated basslines, topped off by Jyager’s energetic presence, combine to form a glorious whole.

But you get the feeling that this isn’t the Polar Bear that some members of the audience have come to see. One heckle of "play one we know!" is met with a wry smile from Jyager, because if you were expecting the well-loved, sax-led jazz quartet, you may end up going home disappointed. The evolution from the early days of Polar Bear’s snarling sax duelling that earned them a Mercury Music Prize nomination is clearly evident as they embark upon this dynamic collaboration. On the strength of their combined musicianship alone, the prospects for what this band can create are insatiable and, united with such an exciting talent as Jyager, the jazz/rap union appears to have been carried off with vibrant aplomb.

For the unexpectant neutral, this is a delight to behold and as I gaze at the musicianship on show my good English self can’t help but let out a wiggle of the hips and a tap of the foot in response to the rhythmic energy flowing from the speakers. As the inevitable encore ensues, there is noticeable sophistication about Polar Bear’s manner, no need for any tricks or flamboyance, just let the inventiveness and excitement of the music speaks for itself.

Words & Images: Simon Bray

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