I first discovered the jazz band Polar Bear entirely by accident while purchasing music to play and review on my old radio show on URY. The album in question was their second release, Held on the tips of fingers, and as soon as I heard it I realised how good they are as a band. You can imagine then my joy when I heard that they would be playing at the Wardrobe here in Leeds.
I wasn’t at all disappointed by their performance, in fact it was really rather amazing to the extent that the CDs just don’t do Polar Bear justice. The way they play on stage is very special, and the passion expressed in the music is clear. The band members conduct themselves with great humility which isn’t common amongst bands, even the jazz groups. Their music is quite varied and although every jazz fan will find something very familiar to the jazz scene in their sound, some of their songs fly in the face of this and are considerably darker and more interesting.
Apart from the conventional playing of their instruments the band employed some very interesting techniques to create some amazing haunting sounds on top of their playing. Just the simple act of blowing into a saxophone without producing any sound creates a wind like sound that seems to float above everything else and it really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It wasn’t just the special effects though but the sheer brilliance of the bands performance overall. Every piece from punchy jazz number to mysterious spooky melody was played wonderfully and really wowed the audience.
Without a doubt Polar Bear are a modern group, expressing jazz with a fair few modern techniques employed, but what is so startling is how well you feel connected to the roots of jazz while listening to their music. I feel it has a lot to do with the freedom of expression they demonstrate on stage coupled with the typically jazz sound on the sax and double bass.
Polar Bear have just recorded some new songs, some of which they had yet to name even when they played them at the gig, but it is hoped that a new album will be available in the new year. Until then though I still heartily recommend you go out in search of their music. My favorite album is Held on the tips of fingers but I also recently bought their first album, Dim Lit, which has some amazing music on it too. Polar Bear live are always worth going to see at a venue near you and from my perspective anyway you are sure to have a superb musical experience.