Polar Bear – Same As You ★★★★

The Leaf Label 8431900099824
Seb Rochford (d, perc, v), Mark Lockheart, Pete Wareham, Shabaka Hutchings (ts), Tom Herbert (b), Leafcutter John (g, electronics), Asar Mikael and Hannah Darling (v). Rec. April 2014

Polar Bear’s sixth album is the most emotionally engaging music I’ve heard from them. Though recorded in London, Seb Rochford’s relocation to the Mojave Desert to mix surely added to its haunting ambience. The urban murk of last year’s Mercury-nominated In Each And Every One has been replaced by a search for some higher, communal bond, made explicit when Rochford leads the chants in ‘Dont Let the Feeling Go’ (sic).

His need to vocalise his message can be traced back to A Love Supreme, but this 21st century, part-digital spiritual jazz can equally be linked to the Gondwana Orchestra, Primal Scream’s rave-rock classic Screamadelica, and even early house music’s gospel-rooted transcendence. A dub-learned sense of space earths its attempt at the sublime. ‘We Feel the Echoes’, especially, conjures an almost mappable place deep in the stereo field, in which saxes flutter and fade. ‘The First Steps’’ electronic swirl then ends in a horn-like, held note seeming to signal some sort of evolution.

With Rochford’s Sons of Kemet bandmate Shabaka Hutchings joining in on ‘Dont Let the Feeling Go’, Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart’s saxes – generally central, and soloing with sinuous power – soar into clean air. ‘Unrelenting Unconditional’ then begins a ritual climax, in which a sax pans past like a freight-train in the night, the instrument’s siren-calls elsewhere become high-register screams, and a wild dog barks. The effect is meditative, dislocating and gripping all at once.

– Nick Hasted

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