Polar Bear with Jyager
(Westminster Reference Library, part of the London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 13th 2010, Review by Adam Tait)
Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I‘ve never sat on the floor of a library for any gig, jazz or otherwise. Neither have I ever seen a man play a balloon so successfully. Polar Bear ’s showcase on Saturday had both of these.
Call me narrow minded but there was something askew from the get go on this night. From the queue that stretched from the door way of Westminster Reference Library that prompted to police officers to approach and ask ‘what’s going on here then?’ (yes, that’s actually what they asked) to the free plastic cup of punch that we were all handed as we settled ourselves on the floor of the library, it was clear that the atmosphere of this night was going to be original to say the least.
Polar Bear are the sort of band I find it very easy to fall in love with, the sort who seem to be doing the ‘right’ thing with there music. By this I mean they refuse to let jazz music be pigeon-holed into that tidy little box that is labeled 30+. They are rhythmically electric and melodically compelling. They are progressively experimental without becoming inaccessible. ‘Leafcutter’ John’s ability to play a balloon so melodically and atmospherically surely left not a single person unimpressed. The bands ability to create a polyrhythmic song purely by looping bars improvised bass through (every musicians’ friend) the MacBook was hypnotic. Perhaps the sound of digital crunching, controlled by what looked like a Wii remote, was unnecessary. It did feel sometimes that the band needed to reign their digital experimentation in a little to avoid crowding the fundamental rhythm of their music, but what is apparent with this band is that they are fearful of trying nothing.
With that in mind, then, we resettle ourselves on the floor for the second part of the nights show. The part featuring young rapper Jyager. The part, in my opinion, that made it well worth spending Saturday night in a library. It had already been seen that Polar Bear are rhythmically impressive, and it doesn’t take long for it to be come apparent that Jyager can rap, “I ain’t like these rappers that talk a lot but don’t say much” he tells us, and I don’t think we can argue with that. It seems odd some how that jazz and rap have never had any significant cross over before. Both revolve in large part around being rhythmically original interesting. Both, at their own times, have been culturally cutting edge. Perhaps the reason these two genres have never managed to merge successfully is the apparent incompatibility of their audiences. Jazz audiences are typically happy to sit back and listen, a look of deep concentration on their face. Rap audiences wouldn’t imagine attending a show at which they sat, preferring at the very least a steady head nod and foot stamp.
That seemed the problem on Saturday as Jyager took centre stage. The sentiment of music and lyric were beautifully in line, the rhythms produced by both wove a wonderfully tangled web. But the audience didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Do we stand up for this part? Do we dance or do we just listen? And when Jyager instructs the packed library to ‘bubble, come on I wanna see you all skank along with me’ no body moved.
But regardless of this the combination of the two musics was amazing. Hopefully this will set a trend, because it should, this is music for music’s sake. This is ‘let’s stir the bowl and see what happens music’. And that’s definitely what we need, to push boundaries and question traditions. Perhaps a library wasn’t the best setting for this, perhaps the people who want this sort of music the most don’t know about it yet. But this is a really good idea, and the start of something really good in English music. “We ain’t never giving up, no matter what the weather brings” sings Jyager. Please don’t.