Polar Bear, the cryptically lyrical British two-sax quartet, have waited four years to release the follow-up to their memorable fourth album, Peepers, and this sometimes dreamy, sometimes fierce set is the slow-cooked result. Electronics plays a bigger role, with the introductory Open See a sonic vapour of airy whistles and glowing, pulsing effects. Be Free and Chatpot are delightful rhythm games on delicate sax motifs, distant hoots and synthesised vocals, set against Seb Rochford's clappy drum grooves or soft clatters; the snappy rimshots and lazy tenor-shruggings of They're All Ks and Qs Lucien are irresistible all the way to their finale. The two Lost in Death episodes join slow, folky throbs, whistly electronic jigs and gentle, tailchasing phrases for Pete Wareham's and Mark Lockheart's saxes, and Maliana sounds like a 21st-century Albert Ayler. Rochford's creative mix makes the album seem like an integrated, large-scale work, and the overall effect is eerily beautiful.
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3