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Mammal Hands - Shadow Work Rating: 4 out of 5 An artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation.

Mammal Hands

“Shadow Work”

(Gondwana Records GONDCD021)

“Shadow Work” is the third album release from the trio Mammal Hands  featuring brothers Jordan Smart (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 both bands 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 trio to his Gondwana imprint and produced their acclaimed début album “Animalia” in 2014. 

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 their second Album “Floa” (2016) they 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.

Recorded at 80 Hertz Studios in Manchester “Shadow Work” is the first album where the trio have assumed full control of the production process, albeit with the aid of experienced sound engineer George Atkins. The tunes are written collaboratively, often emerging from group improvisations. “Shadow Work” also sees the band subtly expanding their sonic palette though the use of prepared piano techniques, field recordings and discrete electronic effects. The album also includes guest contributions from string players Tom Moore (violin, viola) and Pete Yelding (cello).

Album opener “Black Sails” was developed out of a group improvisation and commences with the sound of Nick Smart’s arpeggiated piano. He’s subsequently joined by Jordan on soprano sax and Barrett at the drums, the former blowing catchy, hooky melody lines as the latter lays down a skittering drum groove. It’s an attention grabbing intro, albeit one that still finds moments for quieter introspection with Moore and Yelding making subtle textural contributions. Mammal Hands have developed a distinctive group sound and “Black Sails” is immediately recognisable as being their handiwork, although critics may still cite a resemblance to the music of early Portico Quartet that has never entirely gone away. However with Portico increasingly committed to electronica in recent years there’s been a jazz meets minimalism shaped hole that Mammal Hands have gleefully stepped into.

The brief “Wringer” relies on circling melodic motifs and features the sound of muted piano strings, these forming the bedrock for Jordan Smart’s sax melodies and Barrett’s nimble and inventive cymbal work.

The lengthy “Boreal Forest” develops more slowly, building from simple beginnings and spiralling steadily upwards to full on anthemic magnificence. Nick’s piano arpeggios and Barrett’s hip hop inspired grooves underpin the emotive, muezzin like cry of Jordan’s soprano sax. The subtle use of electronic effects expands the trio’s sound to wide-screen proportions on a piece that can justifiably be described as “a bit of an epic”.

By way of contrast “A Solitary Bee”, originally written on wooden flute, emphasises the beauty of simplicity with its folk like tenor sax melodies, derived from Irish traditional music. It’s another piece to feature the sound of muted piano strings, though it has to be said that Mammal Hands’ use of prepared piano techniques is rather less radical than those of a Keith Tippett or Matthew Bourne.

The introduction to “Three Good Things” finds Barrett augmenting his drum kit with various metal objects but again the results are subtle and intriguing rather than alarming. Having established a distinctive group identity Mammal Hands sometimes seem almost reluctant to push their own self imposed boundaries too far. However, having said that, the tabla / piano duet that follows represents one of the most surprising and exciting passages on the whole album. The tune resolves itself with a return to more familiar territory with the return of Jordan Smart’s tenor and Barrett’s move back to the drum kit.

Barrett deploys the tablas once more to establish the gentle 7/8 groove of “Living Frost” which builds to an emotional peak via tenor sax, piano and kit drums before a long, slow spacious find out that sees Jordan Smart adopting a warmer, less abrasive tone on tenor, his playing cushioned by the sound of strings courtesy of Moore and Yelding. The last thing we hear is the huge echo of Barrett’s slow drum groove at the conclusion of a piece with a strong narrative arc that again fits into the ‘epic’ category.

“Near Far” is a brief passage of contemplative solo piano that was improvised in the studio by Nick Smart. An ‘instant composition’ if you will, but one whose Zen like calm and outright beauty fitted in superbly with the rest of the album material, hence its inclusion here.

“Straight Up Raining” makes effective use of folk styled melodies alongside cyclical grooves derived from the worlds of minimalism and contemporary electronic music. It may be archetypal Mammal Hands, but like so much of their output it’s no less beguiling for that.

“Transfixed” develops out of a repeated single note groove to accrue ever increasing layers of rhythmic and melodic complexity as the trio channel Steve Reich for the 21st century. Barrett’s percussive set up deploys both kit drums and tabla and Nick Smart utilises both acoustic and electric keyboards to create an increasingly hypnotic groove. Meanwhile Jordan Smart digs in ever deeper on subtly treated tenor sax. The Coltrane-esque title and the relentless power of the music suggests an affinity with the ‘spiritual jazz’ of the 1960s, again skilfully updated for the 21st century.

The epic “Transfixed” segues into the closing “Being Here”, a richly atmospheric and elegiac piece recorded at the group’s own recording space in Norwich. Nick Smart’s improvised piano sketch is augmented by a field recording of singing birds documented by Jordan Smart while Barrett adds the other-worldly sounds of bowed vibraphone. It’s an eclectic, but charming, vignette that closes the album on a calming, bucolic note.

Mammal Hands continue to write catchy melodies and hooks and “Shadow Work” maintains the charm and accessibility of their earlier output while subtly adding layers of rhythmic and textural complexity. As such it represents an artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound.

I like the band a lot, and can fully understand their appeal to an audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation, even if the Portico comparisons won’t entirely go away. Hardcore jazz fans may well dismiss Mammal Hands but one suspects that this isn’t really the audience they are trying to reach, the trio’s range of influences are far too broad for that.

Mammal Hands are a whole new breed of animal. It will be interesting to see which direction their music takes next.

Mammal Hands are currently on tour in the UK, Europe and Japan. The remaining dates are listed below;


10 Nov Epic Studios NORWICH UK
17 Nov Patterns BRIGHTON UK
20 Nov Union Chapel LONDON UK
24 Nov Explore The North LEUWARDEN Netherlands
29 Nov Unit TOKYO Japan
30 Nov Metro KYOTO Japan
 
http://www.gondwanarecords.com


http://mammalhands.com


 

Shadow Work

Mammal Hands

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Shadow Work

An artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation.

Mammal Hands

“Shadow Work”

(Gondwana Records GONDCD021)

“Shadow Work” is the third album release from the trio Mammal Hands  featuring brothers Jordan Smart (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 both bands 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 trio to his Gondwana imprint and produced their acclaimed début album “Animalia” in 2014. 

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 their second Album “Floa” (2016) they 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.

Recorded at 80 Hertz Studios in Manchester “Shadow Work” is the first album where the trio have assumed full control of the production process, albeit with the aid of experienced sound engineer George Atkins. The tunes are written collaboratively, often emerging from group improvisations. “Shadow Work” also sees the band subtly expanding their sonic palette though the use of prepared piano techniques, field recordings and discrete electronic effects. The album also includes guest contributions from string players Tom Moore (violin, viola) and Pete Yelding (cello).

Album opener “Black Sails” was developed out of a group improvisation and commences with the sound of Nick Smart’s arpeggiated piano. He’s subsequently joined by Jordan on soprano sax and Barrett at the drums, the former blowing catchy, hooky melody lines as the latter lays down a skittering drum groove. It’s an attention grabbing intro, albeit one that still finds moments for quieter introspection with Moore and Yelding making subtle textural contributions. Mammal Hands have developed a distinctive group sound and “Black Sails” is immediately recognisable as being their handiwork, although critics may still cite a resemblance to the music of early Portico Quartet that has never entirely gone away. However with Portico increasingly committed to electronica in recent years there’s been a jazz meets minimalism shaped hole that Mammal Hands have gleefully stepped into.

The brief “Wringer” relies on circling melodic motifs and features the sound of muted piano strings, these forming the bedrock for Jordan Smart’s sax melodies and Barrett’s nimble and inventive cymbal work.

The lengthy “Boreal Forest” develops more slowly, building from simple beginnings and spiralling steadily upwards to full on anthemic magnificence. Nick’s piano arpeggios and Barrett’s hip hop inspired grooves underpin the emotive, muezzin like cry of Jordan’s soprano sax. The subtle use of electronic effects expands the trio’s sound to wide-screen proportions on a piece that can justifiably be described as “a bit of an epic”.

By way of contrast “A Solitary Bee”, originally written on wooden flute, emphasises the beauty of simplicity with its folk like tenor sax melodies, derived from Irish traditional music. It’s another piece to feature the sound of muted piano strings, though it has to be said that Mammal Hands’ use of prepared piano techniques is rather less radical than those of a Keith Tippett or Matthew Bourne.

The introduction to “Three Good Things” finds Barrett augmenting his drum kit with various metal objects but again the results are subtle and intriguing rather than alarming. Having established a distinctive group identity Mammal Hands sometimes seem almost reluctant to push their own self imposed boundaries too far. However, having said that, the tabla / piano duet that follows represents one of the most surprising and exciting passages on the whole album. The tune resolves itself with a return to more familiar territory with the return of Jordan Smart’s tenor and Barrett’s move back to the drum kit.

Barrett deploys the tablas once more to establish the gentle 7/8 groove of “Living Frost” which builds to an emotional peak via tenor sax, piano and kit drums before a long, slow spacious find out that sees Jordan Smart adopting a warmer, less abrasive tone on tenor, his playing cushioned by the sound of strings courtesy of Moore and Yelding. The last thing we hear is the huge echo of Barrett’s slow drum groove at the conclusion of a piece with a strong narrative arc that again fits into the ‘epic’ category.

“Near Far” is a brief passage of contemplative solo piano that was improvised in the studio by Nick Smart. An ‘instant composition’ if you will, but one whose Zen like calm and outright beauty fitted in superbly with the rest of the album material, hence its inclusion here.

“Straight Up Raining” makes effective use of folk styled melodies alongside cyclical grooves derived from the worlds of minimalism and contemporary electronic music. It may be archetypal Mammal Hands, but like so much of their output it’s no less beguiling for that.

“Transfixed” develops out of a repeated single note groove to accrue ever increasing layers of rhythmic and melodic complexity as the trio channel Steve Reich for the 21st century. Barrett’s percussive set up deploys both kit drums and tabla and Nick Smart utilises both acoustic and electric keyboards to create an increasingly hypnotic groove. Meanwhile Jordan Smart digs in ever deeper on subtly treated tenor sax. The Coltrane-esque title and the relentless power of the music suggests an affinity with the ‘spiritual jazz’ of the 1960s, again skilfully updated for the 21st century.

The epic “Transfixed” segues into the closing “Being Here”, a richly atmospheric and elegiac piece recorded at the group’s own recording space in Norwich. Nick Smart’s improvised piano sketch is augmented by a field recording of singing birds documented by Jordan Smart while Barrett adds the other-worldly sounds of bowed vibraphone. It’s an eclectic, but charming, vignette that closes the album on a calming, bucolic note.

Mammal Hands continue to write catchy melodies and hooks and “Shadow Work” maintains the charm and accessibility of their earlier output while subtly adding layers of rhythmic and textural complexity. As such it represents an artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound.

I like the band a lot, and can fully understand their appeal to an audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation, even if the Portico comparisons won’t entirely go away. Hardcore jazz fans may well dismiss Mammal Hands but one suspects that this isn’t really the audience they are trying to reach, the trio’s range of influences are far too broad for that.

Mammal Hands are a whole new breed of animal. It will be interesting to see which direction their music takes next.

Mammal Hands are currently on tour in the UK, Europe and Japan. The remaining dates are listed below;


10 Nov Epic Studios NORWICH UK
17 Nov Patterns BRIGHTON UK
20 Nov Union Chapel LONDON UK
24 Nov Explore The North LEUWARDEN Netherlands
29 Nov Unit TOKYO Japan
30 Nov Metro KYOTO Japan
 
http://www.gondwanarecords.com


http://mammalhands.com


 


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