ARTIST: MAMMAL HANDS
LABEL (YEAR): GONDWANA RECORDS (2014)
FOR FANS OF: GOGO PENGUIN, SONS OF KEMET, POLAR BEAR
Words by Aidan Daly
Matthew Halsall’s decision to snap up Mammal Hands to the seemingly exclusive Gondwana Records was not, one can assume, made hastily (there are now only two other artists on the books since GoGo Penguin signed to Blue Note last year). Either way, the result was Animalia, Mammal Hands’ intricately crafted debut album.
Like GoGo Penguin, Mammal Hands’ compositions delicately balance elements of acoustic jazz with diverse and eccentric influences. In their case, this sees the band tapping into the traditions of North Indian and African percussion, while also taking cues from the technicalities of minimalist and electronic music. The end product is a distinctive, melodic, and accessible take on jazz.
Washes of elegant harmony permeate the album, as on ‘Kandaiki’ and ‘Spinning the Wheel’ – both relaxed affairs built around mournful, repeating piano and sax melodies. The self-proclaimed influence of minimalist pioneer Steve Reich is evident in the stylistic appropriation of hypnotic, recurring phrases, especially on ‘Bustle’, which dance over the precise arrangements of drummer Jesse Barrett. Like Reich, the trio playfully exploit the listener’s rhythmic assumptions through subtle manipulation of time signature and groove.
Throughout the LP, the interplay between brothers Nick and Jordan Smart, on piano and sax, is effortlessly clean. As their instruments meld beautifully, the lack of a double bass – so often a staple of jazz outfits – is rendered unproblematic. Drummer Barrett punctuates the harmonic side of the outfit with finesse, either assembling complex and powerful patterns, or reining it in with ambient dustings of brushed snares and cymbals.
One to listen to while doing a cryptic crossword.