Polar Bear

Same as You

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Throughout Polar Bear's recording career, the only constant has been change. Sebastian Rochford and company have used jazz to explore funk, hip-hop, dissonant improvisation, EDM, rock, and more. Same as You was recorded hot on the heels of 2014's Each and Every One -- nominated for a Mercury Prize -- and mixed by drummer Rochford and producer Ken Barrientos in the Mojave Desert, whose vibe inhabits these tracks. Same as You was originally conceived as a single piece and eventually separated into five cuts that still sound seamless and whole. There is a compelling meld of styles here, but the thread that ties its various elements together is the rhythm section's exploration of dub. That's not to say that this is a reggae record; far from it. But the constant interplay between Rochford and bassist Tom Herbert simultaneously grounds and liberates saxophonists Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart and Leafcutter John on guitars and electronics to explore widely. It is far more relaxed than Each and Every One; the sound is also more organic despite the wealth of ambient and other electronics. "Life Love and Light" is a spoken word invocation by guest Asar Mikael (owner of a Jamaican cultural center, bookstore, and meeting place in London) accompanied by a single droning G chord played on an organ. Its genuine, heart-opening, positive vibes set the tone for the remarkable "We Feel the Echoes," a ten-minute slow bubbling slipstream of gorgeous saxophone interplay, rolling, laid-back breaks, and sonic ambience. Herbert's upright double bass is mixed way up top, laying down an unforgettable groove to center it all. The meditative and melodic meandering all centers on him. "The First Steps" commences with Rochford's kit and electronics. They're joined by one tenor playing a round-like melody that would be right at home in Nigerian folk music. The second tenor enters and comments in a long back and forth as rhythms increase in density and variety; the lyric remains circular before the pair spirals off in different cadences and motifs and Herbert's bass becomes the tune's beating heart. "Of Hi Lands" is an electronically drenched overture to the set's second half. Framed by Leafcutter John's swirling electronics, Rochford and Herbert's reflected accents bridge the saxophonists' dialogic improvisations. On "Don't Let the Feeling Go," staccato tenor playing and tight harmonic bass are the hinges for propulsion by Rochford and a chanted vocal between the drummer and guest Shabaka Hutchings. Closer "Unrelenting Unconditional" is a nearly 20-minute jam that explores the dubwise connection right up front, with drums, percussion, and a trancey bassline that frame spacious Caribbean and Middle Eastern folk music through modal jazz. Same as You bears a less forceful signature than previous Polar Bear offerings, but it is also their most musically satisfying album. The attention to sonic detail and warm atmospherics, combined with the high level of harmonic invention and improvisational adventure, would be right at home on Manfred Eicher's ECM label.

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