For some of you who have been paying attention to my reviews, this introduction may sound a bit like a broken record (or perhaps a damaged digital file). But... time and time again... I come back to the reality that one of the most fruitful ways I've discovered fresh music has been in the "real world." New sounds played on sound systems in brick and mortar business establishments. Not online... But in record stores... In restaurants... In clubs... In coffeehouses... Out in the universe... out where we interact with one another as real, living breathing people.
And it happened again the other day when I was doing a bit of what I call "bargain bin therapy" shopping, crate digging through Rasputin Music's massive dollar (and fifty-cent) bargain bins. Some music came on the store's PA system that was immediately compelling and interesting. It sounded jazzy and moody, swinging yet pensive. Like some lost ECM Records artists I'd never heard before. A bit like Ralph Towner's Oregon in some ways ... Perhaps a bit akin to Brad Mehldau but with a different global perspective... A less intense and possibly compositionally more focused Keith Jarrett... Perhaps a wee bit like Pat Metheny but without the guitar...(so .... yeah... maybe this music is nothing like Pat Metheny).
What if Sigur Ros was a jazz saxophone/piano/drum trio? Hmmm... getting close...
I Shazam'd what I was hearing with my iPhone but wasn't sure if it had gotten it right (it did!) so I scurried around the store to track down the employee whose iPod was playing over the sound system. He said it was Mammal Hands, "a band I probably won't find out much about here in the US." Indeed it turns out they are from Norwich ("one of Britain's most isolated and most easterly cities," says their bio).
And while said bio over promises a bit, I genuinely like do what they are doing. Again, from the bio: "Captivating, ethereal and majestic, Mammal Hands (saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart and drummer and percussionist Jesse Barrett) has carved out a refreshingly original sound from a disparate array of influences: drawing on spiritual jazz, north Indian, folk and classical music to create something inimitably their own."
I don't know if the sound is entirely "original" but it is completely captivating, ethereal and majestic. Really lovely -- and well recorded -- indeed refreshing stuff here, kids. The important thing is that there are entirely compelling compositions going on here. Indeed it at times recalls music by the legendary Oregon -- which blended Eastern instrumentation with jazz and other world influences -- and even some of the music of Roger Kellaway (a pianist which I happened to have written about recently). I hear echoes of many ECM artists from the seventies and eighties and perhaps even some of Philip Glass' soundtracks (check out the official video for "Hourglass" from their album Floa). You might hear some Alice Coltrane in there and the underlying essence of some of Brian Eno and Harold Budd's ambient journeys... In some ways this music sounds like soundtrack music to an adventure film across an African landscape or Australia's outback.
A key element at play here are the melodies and there are a lot of super nice things going on throughout Mammal Hands' progressive leaning jazz spirited music. And that is something refreshing to hear in these harsh twenty-first century times, especially coming from the world of improvisation oriented music. "Think Anything" sounds like an new world inversion of Dave Brubeck's smash hit "Take Five" (from 1959's Time Out).
All three of Mammal Hands' albums are up for the streaming on Tidal in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CD quality and you'll find them on Amazon, iTunes and Bandcamp (links are embedded here in this article, so click around). Thus far, I've mostly been listening a bit to Floa, their 2016 release which the clerk at the record store was playing, so I'll be checking out their other albums more closely in the days/weeks ahead -- it sounds real good all in all. There are nice, naturally recorded acoustic instrument sounds here (especially evident on tracks like "The Eyes That Saw The Mountain" where Jordan Smart's Saxophone at times sounds like violin or cello).
I have sampled some of Anamalia from 2014 and Shadow Work (released late last year) and both sound pretty magnificent (check out the official video for the, again, wonderfully Philip Glass-like "Boreal Forest"). Actually the most recent album sounds especially alive, so perhaps they stepped up their recording game even more (a good growth sign). I may well buy the FLAC download or the vinyl of Mammal Hands' albums. But I was so jazzed (if you'll pardon the avoidable pun) about this music I decided do my review based on the fine sounding CD-quality Tidal streams I have immediate access to, so I could get the word out about my little discovery sooner rather than later.
Check Mammal Hands out. Good stuff here.