I, like most reasonable people, abhor the saxophone. Seeing two saxophonists on stage with anything other than a big band (also bad) will make me about turn and shelter myself at the bar. But for Polar Bear, it’s ok.
Coupled with the humanity of Tom Herbert’s double bass and the Magellan of Max/MSP, Leafcutter John, there’s enough ambition and invention to forgive even a pair of these honking brass crimes, played stunningly by Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart.
Band leader Seb Rochford nestles anonymously behind his kit, adding colour to the almost sinister palette his band are cooking up. In this world, playing the kit as a kit seems alien and intrusive.
As the evening mutates, Herbert and Rochford lock in to straight-ish, crowd-pleasing grooves, then let them dissipate into space before unpredictably pushing into harder areas, like a demo of live cartography.
What issues forth is less a representation of an album or group, but more of a set of parameters and ideas which can be taken away and reassembled by the listener post hoc. You get what the band allow through the leaking cracks of their unusual machine.
Live, improvised electronic music is very dangerous as often only the highly skilled – that is, not just someone with a MacBook – can even come close to designing, intimately understanding and controlling a workable, original system, let alone having the fluidity to make it musical. So, if you want someone to do all this within the loose framework of a jazz band, then you go to Leafcutter John.
Leafcutter deals less in audio than data flow, through carefully measured gates, algorithms and filters, generating a kind of purity of clatter reminiscent of Autechre.
And in the middle, obscured by sound, sits savant Sebastian Rochford, calm but powerful reminder that there may well be some cosmic force drawing music and art from our baffled frames.