Polar Bear are not easy to categorise. At the heart of their work is a clear love of free-form jazz, yet with a wide range of musical influences, Polar Bear continue to break down barriers of what is often seen as a staid genre. By allowing their recordings to never lose the vibrancy of a live set, Polar Bear ensure that each listening experience unveils hidden layers. Fourth album Peepers is no exception to the rule. With Sebastian Rochford at the helm once more, whilst undertaking percussion duties, the ensemble set out to create an album more raw than any of their previous. In order to do so, Rochford fed his bandmates with as little information as possible before their recording session, thus ensuring spontaneity on the record.
By taking a risk that many a recording artist wouldn’t, Rochford has ensured that Peepers is a dynamic, dexterous collection. His faith is fellow musicians Pete Wareham (Tenor Sax), Mark Lockheart (Tenor Sax), Tom Herbert (Double Bass) and Leafcutter John (Electronics, Guitar) pays off ten-fold. An instrumental jazz collection can often blend into the background after a while, yet the vivacity of Peepers retains interest and turns up surprises.
The Mercury nominated Polar Bear were never going to disappoint.
Opening with the emotive euphoria of “Happy For You”, the journey sets out on an steady road, only to be knocked sideways by the blistering “Drunken Pharaoh”. Percussion heavy “Peepers” boasts a sax to the tune of Russian’s duo T.A.T.U’s “Not Gonna Get Us”. A turn up for any jazz album, the coincidental similarity should be off putting but is rather quite charming. Especially as we swirl straight into the stomp of “Bump” before the manic “Scream”. Yet it is the somewhat haunting “Finding Our Feet” that shines outright as the album draws to a close.
The Mercury nominated Polar Bear were never going to disappoint. Having consistently delivered since their 2004 debut, the ensemble’s experimental approach is endearing and entertaining. Peepers isn’t without flaw and there are moments of sheer noise as opposed to music, but on the whole Peepers is rewarding listen.