Album Reviews

Polar Bear with Jyager – Common Ground

(The Leaf Label) UK release date: 11 October 2010

The idea of putting jazz and hip hop together is hardly a new one, but when combined the styles can feed off each other to bear rich fruit. The sadly departed Guru was one of the prime movers behind this idea, of course, but his legacy lives on in the open minds of artists such as Polar Bear.

This is a far from ordinary coming together, mind – and hardly stays within the boundaries of either. Seb Rochford, Polar Bear’s main man, has used as his source material fragments of the eyeopening Peepers album from earlier this year, extracting them for new instrumental tracks which he mailed to the Portuguese rapper Jyager. He, too, is an artist refuting the constraints a genre name can bring, and between them the two have made a record of great freedom and variety.

The music all but reflects the meeting of the two artists, who came together by happy accident. With all manner of strange sounds and harmonies, it can veer from industrial darkness to lighter touches of sunshine, sometimes in the same track.

There are healthy contradictions at work, too. Never Giving Up has the ballsy attitude of a west coast rap record, but holds back from being too cocksure, with what sounds like a creaking door for company. Meanwhile The Role I Choose is closer to dubstep in its doom-laden sound picture, though it sounds like it’s been recorded in the vicinity of an oil drum, its restless movements evading capture by the ear.

Jyager’s voice is striking, his rapping style flexible and at times unpredictable. The arresting closing track Enterprize, just a minute long, finds him set directly against an athletic Rochford bass line. “I’m a brother from the mother land and this is my enterprise,” he boasts. “Take a trip with me and find out what it’s like to feel alive!” The beats scatter in his path in response.

There are intimate moments too, beautifully wrought through Rochford’s ear for musical colour. New Love is one such moment, a tender instrumental that provides an effective interlude and lends more weight to Jyager’s return. Flowerpot remix gives more than a nod to Matthew Herbert deep house, with saxophones filtered, chopped and transposed.

Without an ounce of fluff, this is a 25-minute mini-album packed with musical incident and intrigue, free of constraint but at the same time coming up with concise and concentrated arguments of music and speech.

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Polar Bear with Jyager – Common Ground