Polar Bear & Jyager Common Ground Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Truly modern jazz with fresh layers of innovation.

Lloyd Bradley 2010

A real problem with jazz in the 21st century, indeed jazz in Great Britain during any century, is it so often arrives at what it’s going to do with a very set idea – a template, even – of what jazz should be. Thus it ends up slavishly impersonating something else and putting itself almost entirely against the spirit of the music. Polar Bear, the brainchild of Scottish drummer, writer and improviser Sebastian Rochford, is determined to break new ground as regards music and sound, even if, for nearly all of this set, that new ground is his own back garden.

Everything on Common Ground, with the exception of the first (and comparatively disappointing) track Recording in Secret, is constructed from cut-ups taken from Polar bear’s previous album Peepers, sonic snatches that were obtained solely from manipulating a vinyl copy of the album on a turntable. Putting the sounds together with the drummer’s rhythmic and jazz sensibilities produces an effect so avant-garde it is as much Pink Floyd as it is Archie Shepp.

Rochford creates weird, woozy electronics with New Love; bizarre syncopated blues with Never Giving Up; menacing G-funkish creeping with Don’t Think I Won’t; and Flowerpot Remix is very ‘spirit of jazz’ inasmuch as it simply seems to be joyously celebrating its own cleverness with a chugging rhythm track overlaid with some bonkers bleeps and honks. Yet Rochford knows the best ad-libs take a week to write, so it quickly becomes obvious what first appears disjointed and random is put together with a subtle but disciplined musical ability.

As truly modern jazz these backing tracks have a definite value on their own, but grafting garage-style MC Jyager onto about half of them pushes proceedings into another realm. The high speed, abrasive delivery about all things urban gives them an edge and an audience they might not have otherwise. While Jyager isn’t the best MC in the world, his contributions mean Common Ground can provide a fresh layer of innovation to the spiky city streets end of grime, at a time when some of its most inventive producers are looking to smooth things off for the mainstream.

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