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Mammal Hands - Floa Rating: 4 out of 5 Anybody who takes an interest in the more contemporary, rock influenced end of the jazz spectrum should find much to enjoy in Mammal Hands' music.

Mammal Hands

“Floa”

(Gondwana Records GONDCD014)

“Floa” is the second album release by Mammal Hands, the young trio featuring brothers Jordan (saxophones) and Nick Smart (piano) plus drummer/percussionist Jesse Barrett. Originally from Norwich the Smarts were already working as an electronica duo before they encountered Barrett in 2012 with the music subsequently diverting in a more obvious jazz direction.

After adopting the group name Mammal Hands the trio were spotted by GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka when they were playing at the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in Birmingham. Recognising them as kindred spirits Blacka recommended them to Manchester based trumpeter, composer and label owner Matthew Halsall who signed the band to his Gondwana imprint and released their acclaimed début album “Animalia”. These days there’s a tendency to think of Mammal Hands as a Manchester band despite their East Anglian roots – does that make them a sort of jazz equivalent to the Charlatans?

The bassless line up might suggest some kind of chamber jazz but instead the music of Mammal Hands is unexpectedly rhythmic, dynamic and exciting and reflects the trio’s interests in electronic, contemporary classical and world music. These include Barrett’s knowledge of Indian rhythms learned during his studies with tabla master Sirishkumar, Nick Smart’s love of minimalist composers Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Jordan’s immersion in the different sound worlds of DJ culture and the spiritual jazz of Pharaoh Sanders. For this second outing they have added Sufi and African trance music plus the folk music of both Ireland and Eastern Europe to their range of influences. Like one time label mates GoGo Penguin Mammal Hands create thoroughly contemporary music that has the potential to appeal to a wide range of listeners including adventurous fans of both dance and rock music.

The last two years have seen the trio touring extensively with performances at Kings Place in London and at the Royal Northern College of Music in their adopted home of Manchester singled out by the band as particular highlights. They also played at the Montreal Jazz Festival as part of a “BBC Introducing” showcase, a performance that made a big impression on the Canadian audience and which saw the group being invited back across the Atlantic for further shows in North America. I caught the band’s gig at the 2015 How The Light Gets In festival in nearby Hay on Wye but truth to tell it was a little disappointing. A draughty tent with a tiny audience and with Nick Smart confined to a small electric keyboard wasn’t really the place to see the band at their best, especially as they also had to play a truncated set, necessarily shortened due to the requirements of festival scheduling. Nevertheless the potential of the group was plain to see, in more sympathetic settings one got the impression that they’d be quite capable of wowing an audience as their friends GoGo Penguin did at The Gate in Cardiff earlier this year when they played to a sold out crowd and enjoyed the benefit of a grand piano. I’d certainly have no hesitation in checking out Mammal Hands again, preferably at a more suitable venue.

On then to “Floa”, the band’s second album for Gondwana, produced by Halsall and recorded at 80 Hertz Studio in Manchester. The album title comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “flow” or “deluge” and references the band’s mammoth writing and rehearsal sessions and the flow of ideas that stem from these with all three group members contributing to the writing process - all nine of the original compositions are simply credited to ‘Mammal Hands’. The album title is also meant to signify the flow of energy between the band and its audience. Meanwhile Daniel Halsall’s coolly minimalist cover design evokes memories of that GoGo Penguin’s second album “v2.0” and sees Gondwana establishing something of a ‘house style’ in terms of graphic design. 

For Mammal Hands the group sound is paramount and there is little room in their compositions for conventional jazz soloing although both saxophone and piano take turns in leading the band with pianist Nick Smart also fulfilling an important rhythmic function throughout. This time round the group’s sonic palette is expanded by the contributions of two additional musicians, both of whom are members of Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Orchestra. Gavin Barrass adds double bass and Natalie Purton appears on both violin and viola – I guess it’s not strictly accurate to refer to Mammal Hands as ‘bassless’ any more.

The album commences with “Quiet Fire”, the rustle of Barratt’s percussion leading to the establishment of a hypnotic groove that simultaneously manages to be both cyclical and constantly evolving. Around this the group weave melodic patterns with Jordan Smart’s saxophone periodically taking flight on a series of soaring choruses. Many reviews of “Animalia”, including my own, noted the similarities between Mammal Hands and Portico Quartet and that resemblance is still there with Jordan’s tone sometimes reminiscent of that of Portico’s Jack Wyllie.  Interestingly both bands started their careers as buskers - Mammal Hands first got together on the streets of Norwich while Portico used to busk outside London’s South Bank Centre . In such an environment strong, attention grabbing melodies are a must and both bands have these in abundance. However for all their accessibility there is no hint of any compromise with regard to either band’s artistic integrity, they just have the enviable gift of writing good tunes. These days the truncated Portico (there’s now only three of them) have immersed themselves almost fully in the world of electronic music thereby leaving a niche which is currently being filled superbly by the still essentially acoustic Mammal Hands.

“Hillum” sees the group developing folk like melodies in the now signature Mammal Hands style with Jordan Smart taking a relatively orthodox sax solo as he shapes the music in the tune’s early stages. Nick Smart’s piano arpeggios then act as the launching pad for a furious group climax, the complexities of which are superbly negotiated. The piece then resolves itself more gently with a return to the opening folk inspired theme.

“Hourglass” makes dramatic use of repetitive, overlapping rhythmic patterns and textures, hypnotically drawing the listener into the trio’s soundworld. Jordan Smart alternately probes and soars on soprano sax as the rhythms around him get ever more energetic, dense, complex and exotic with Barrett doubling on both drum kit and tabla. 

“Think Anything” introduces a more obvious jazz feel but there’s also more than a hint of Middle Eastern / North African exotica as Jordan Smart’s Coltrane and Sanders influences come to the surface. It’s possible that Gilad Atzmon may have been a more contemporary inspiration here. This piece also offers some relatively conventional soloing with Nick Smart contributing a particularly compelling feature on the piano.

“In The Treetops” began life as a rhythmic percussion pattern but is centred here around Jordan Smart’s insistent sax ostinato, subsequently joined by Barrett’s brushed drums and Nick Smart’s piano. Jordan’s vamp forms the backbone of the track as Nick Smart develops the melody and the guest string players add extra depth, colour and texture. There’s a hint here of something that Penguin Café Orchestra might have attempted.

The shimmer of percussion introduces the beautiful “Eyes That Saw The Mountain” with its gorgeous folk inspired melodies. Variously hinting at the folk traditions of the Far East and Ireland the lush melodicism is underpinned by a thoroughly contemporary groove before fragmenting into a freer section featuring an exchange of ideas between saxophone and piano. The overall effect is delightful and sees Mammal Hands bringing a variety of their influences together to create a compelling and convincing whole.

“Kudu”, named after a type of antelope, has an earthier, more urgent feel with Jordan Smart’s incisive sax combining with the colourful chatter of Barrett’s drums and percussion, including some spirited and highly inventive cymbal work. Jordan’s increasingly impassioned playing draws on the worlds of African trance music and spiritual jazz as Nick’s highly rhythmic piano simultaneously helps to drive the track and act as a grounding force.

“The Falling Dream” is said to be influenced by hip-hop sampling techniques but it’s Nick Smart’s love of minimalism that is most apparent with gently looping patterns forming the framework for the lush layers of saxophone and strings that help to give this piece a suitably ethereal and ‘dreamlike’ atmosphere.

Finally we hear “Shift”, another compelling synthesis of the group’s various influences with arresting folk derived melodies combining with beats and rhythms sourced from electronica and beyond. Frenetic and spookily atmospheric by turns it offers a pleasing series of dynamic contrasts but seems to finish all too soon. Live appearances may be different, there seems to be ample scope for further development here.

Mammal Hands have produced a worthy follow up to the acclaimed “Animalia” and on this evidence their predominately young audience should continue to grow. Old school jazz fans may cite a lack of improvisational content and conventional soloing but anybody who takes an interest in the more contemporary, rock influenced end of the jazz spectrum should find much to enjoy in Mammal Hands’ music.

The group very much set their stall out on their début and “Floa” finds them honing their approach in a convincing and increasingly confident manner. This is another strong collection of tunes and Mammal hands don’t waste a single idea, once again this is a lean, lithe recording with precious little musical ‘flab’. The similarities to early Portico remain, and could be construed as a criticism,  but the two groups now occupy very different territories and as far as I’m concerned there’s plenty of room for both of them. Mammal Hands now seem to be playing with greater assurance and will doubtless continue to carve out an increasingly individual niche for themselves.

The group still have a number of live UK shows in the pipeline as detailed below;   

   
  25/06/16 – GLASGOW, Hug and Pint

15/07/16 – AMBLESIDE, Zeffirellis
27/07/16 - SHEFFIELD - The Lescar
28/07/16 - MANCHESTER - Band On The Wall (Manchester Jazz Festival)
31/07/16 - KENDALL - Lower Deer Park - Kendal Calling

27/08/16 - NORTHAMPTONSHIRE - Shambala Festival

Further details at;

http://www.mammalhands.com

http://www.gondwanarecords.com

Floa

Mammal Hands

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Floa

Anybody who takes an interest in the more contemporary, rock influenced end of the jazz spectrum should find much to enjoy in Mammal Hands' music.

Mammal Hands

“Floa”

(Gondwana Records GONDCD014)

“Floa” is the second album release by Mammal Hands, the young trio featuring brothers Jordan (saxophones) and Nick Smart (piano) plus drummer/percussionist Jesse Barrett. Originally from Norwich the Smarts were already working as an electronica duo before they encountered Barrett in 2012 with the music subsequently diverting in a more obvious jazz direction.

After adopting the group name Mammal Hands the trio were spotted by GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka when they were playing at the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in Birmingham. Recognising them as kindred spirits Blacka recommended them to Manchester based trumpeter, composer and label owner Matthew Halsall who signed the band to his Gondwana imprint and released their acclaimed début album “Animalia”. These days there’s a tendency to think of Mammal Hands as a Manchester band despite their East Anglian roots – does that make them a sort of jazz equivalent to the Charlatans?

The bassless line up might suggest some kind of chamber jazz but instead the music of Mammal Hands is unexpectedly rhythmic, dynamic and exciting and reflects the trio’s interests in electronic, contemporary classical and world music. These include Barrett’s knowledge of Indian rhythms learned during his studies with tabla master Sirishkumar, Nick Smart’s love of minimalist composers Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Jordan’s immersion in the different sound worlds of DJ culture and the spiritual jazz of Pharaoh Sanders. For this second outing they have added Sufi and African trance music plus the folk music of both Ireland and Eastern Europe to their range of influences. Like one time label mates GoGo Penguin Mammal Hands create thoroughly contemporary music that has the potential to appeal to a wide range of listeners including adventurous fans of both dance and rock music.

The last two years have seen the trio touring extensively with performances at Kings Place in London and at the Royal Northern College of Music in their adopted home of Manchester singled out by the band as particular highlights. They also played at the Montreal Jazz Festival as part of a “BBC Introducing” showcase, a performance that made a big impression on the Canadian audience and which saw the group being invited back across the Atlantic for further shows in North America. I caught the band’s gig at the 2015 How The Light Gets In festival in nearby Hay on Wye but truth to tell it was a little disappointing. A draughty tent with a tiny audience and with Nick Smart confined to a small electric keyboard wasn’t really the place to see the band at their best, especially as they also had to play a truncated set, necessarily shortened due to the requirements of festival scheduling. Nevertheless the potential of the group was plain to see, in more sympathetic settings one got the impression that they’d be quite capable of wowing an audience as their friends GoGo Penguin did at The Gate in Cardiff earlier this year when they played to a sold out crowd and enjoyed the benefit of a grand piano. I’d certainly have no hesitation in checking out Mammal Hands again, preferably at a more suitable venue.

On then to “Floa”, the band’s second album for Gondwana, produced by Halsall and recorded at 80 Hertz Studio in Manchester. The album title comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “flow” or “deluge” and references the band’s mammoth writing and rehearsal sessions and the flow of ideas that stem from these with all three group members contributing to the writing process - all nine of the original compositions are simply credited to ‘Mammal Hands’. The album title is also meant to signify the flow of energy between the band and its audience. Meanwhile Daniel Halsall’s coolly minimalist cover design evokes memories of that GoGo Penguin’s second album “v2.0” and sees Gondwana establishing something of a ‘house style’ in terms of graphic design. 

For Mammal Hands the group sound is paramount and there is little room in their compositions for conventional jazz soloing although both saxophone and piano take turns in leading the band with pianist Nick Smart also fulfilling an important rhythmic function throughout. This time round the group’s sonic palette is expanded by the contributions of two additional musicians, both of whom are members of Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Orchestra. Gavin Barrass adds double bass and Natalie Purton appears on both violin and viola – I guess it’s not strictly accurate to refer to Mammal Hands as ‘bassless’ any more.

The album commences with “Quiet Fire”, the rustle of Barratt’s percussion leading to the establishment of a hypnotic groove that simultaneously manages to be both cyclical and constantly evolving. Around this the group weave melodic patterns with Jordan Smart’s saxophone periodically taking flight on a series of soaring choruses. Many reviews of “Animalia”, including my own, noted the similarities between Mammal Hands and Portico Quartet and that resemblance is still there with Jordan’s tone sometimes reminiscent of that of Portico’s Jack Wyllie.  Interestingly both bands started their careers as buskers - Mammal Hands first got together on the streets of Norwich while Portico used to busk outside London’s South Bank Centre . In such an environment strong, attention grabbing melodies are a must and both bands have these in abundance. However for all their accessibility there is no hint of any compromise with regard to either band’s artistic integrity, they just have the enviable gift of writing good tunes. These days the truncated Portico (there’s now only three of them) have immersed themselves almost fully in the world of electronic music thereby leaving a niche which is currently being filled superbly by the still essentially acoustic Mammal Hands.

“Hillum” sees the group developing folk like melodies in the now signature Mammal Hands style with Jordan Smart taking a relatively orthodox sax solo as he shapes the music in the tune’s early stages. Nick Smart’s piano arpeggios then act as the launching pad for a furious group climax, the complexities of which are superbly negotiated. The piece then resolves itself more gently with a return to the opening folk inspired theme.

“Hourglass” makes dramatic use of repetitive, overlapping rhythmic patterns and textures, hypnotically drawing the listener into the trio’s soundworld. Jordan Smart alternately probes and soars on soprano sax as the rhythms around him get ever more energetic, dense, complex and exotic with Barrett doubling on both drum kit and tabla. 

“Think Anything” introduces a more obvious jazz feel but there’s also more than a hint of Middle Eastern / North African exotica as Jordan Smart’s Coltrane and Sanders influences come to the surface. It’s possible that Gilad Atzmon may have been a more contemporary inspiration here. This piece also offers some relatively conventional soloing with Nick Smart contributing a particularly compelling feature on the piano.

“In The Treetops” began life as a rhythmic percussion pattern but is centred here around Jordan Smart’s insistent sax ostinato, subsequently joined by Barrett’s brushed drums and Nick Smart’s piano. Jordan’s vamp forms the backbone of the track as Nick Smart develops the melody and the guest string players add extra depth, colour and texture. There’s a hint here of something that Penguin Café Orchestra might have attempted.

The shimmer of percussion introduces the beautiful “Eyes That Saw The Mountain” with its gorgeous folk inspired melodies. Variously hinting at the folk traditions of the Far East and Ireland the lush melodicism is underpinned by a thoroughly contemporary groove before fragmenting into a freer section featuring an exchange of ideas between saxophone and piano. The overall effect is delightful and sees Mammal Hands bringing a variety of their influences together to create a compelling and convincing whole.

“Kudu”, named after a type of antelope, has an earthier, more urgent feel with Jordan Smart’s incisive sax combining with the colourful chatter of Barrett’s drums and percussion, including some spirited and highly inventive cymbal work. Jordan’s increasingly impassioned playing draws on the worlds of African trance music and spiritual jazz as Nick’s highly rhythmic piano simultaneously helps to drive the track and act as a grounding force.

“The Falling Dream” is said to be influenced by hip-hop sampling techniques but it’s Nick Smart’s love of minimalism that is most apparent with gently looping patterns forming the framework for the lush layers of saxophone and strings that help to give this piece a suitably ethereal and ‘dreamlike’ atmosphere.

Finally we hear “Shift”, another compelling synthesis of the group’s various influences with arresting folk derived melodies combining with beats and rhythms sourced from electronica and beyond. Frenetic and spookily atmospheric by turns it offers a pleasing series of dynamic contrasts but seems to finish all too soon. Live appearances may be different, there seems to be ample scope for further development here.

Mammal Hands have produced a worthy follow up to the acclaimed “Animalia” and on this evidence their predominately young audience should continue to grow. Old school jazz fans may cite a lack of improvisational content and conventional soloing but anybody who takes an interest in the more contemporary, rock influenced end of the jazz spectrum should find much to enjoy in Mammal Hands’ music.

The group very much set their stall out on their début and “Floa” finds them honing their approach in a convincing and increasingly confident manner. This is another strong collection of tunes and Mammal hands don’t waste a single idea, once again this is a lean, lithe recording with precious little musical ‘flab’. The similarities to early Portico remain, and could be construed as a criticism,  but the two groups now occupy very different territories and as far as I’m concerned there’s plenty of room for both of them. Mammal Hands now seem to be playing with greater assurance and will doubtless continue to carve out an increasingly individual niche for themselves.

The group still have a number of live UK shows in the pipeline as detailed below;   

   
  25/06/16 – GLASGOW, Hug and Pint

15/07/16 – AMBLESIDE, Zeffirellis
27/07/16 - SHEFFIELD - The Lescar
28/07/16 - MANCHESTER - Band On The Wall (Manchester Jazz Festival)
31/07/16 - KENDALL - Lower Deer Park - Kendal Calling

27/08/16 - NORTHAMPTONSHIRE - Shambala Festival

Further details at;

http://www.mammalhands.com

http://www.gondwanarecords.com


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