On Saturday and Sunday night (13/14 November), Westminster Reference Library hosted two special gigs with British experimental Jazz geniuses Polar Bear, who appeared as part of the London Jazz Festival. I had never experienced jazz in a library space before – and now look forward to repeating the experience. The sound sliced right through the dusty air with the precision of a razor sharp ice cold blade and though both night were completely sold out and packed with devoted fans, at times you could hear a pin drop. It was nothing short of magical.
To top it all, the 6 musicians are all charming as well as talented. Drummer Seb Rochford who writes all the music, liked the idea of taking over the public space for those two nights and perform without a stage, audience and music all one, as in the ‘Common Ground’, which is the title of their latest CD.
The first set, purely instrumental, featured guitarist Leafcutter John, whose style is based in computer music and samples of everyday sounds. John made musical noise with a variety of objects and managed to draw, quite simply, the most amazing sounds out of a balloon.
The band’s second set was performed with Jyager, a young and exciting rhyme animal MC from North London. Jyager is barely 20 but he has been on the London Hip Hop scene for a while (“I represent the North” – “funny, you don’t have much of an accent” ha ha “I’m from Totten’am”.) When I ask what inspired him to write rhymes he replies, somewhat unexpectedly: “Shakespeare”. His lyrical content is strong and consistent from start to finish – he has nothing against pop but he is not interested in producing anything disposable: “ money can’t buy respect”, he says with conviction. Seb Rochford heard one of his CDs and decided to attempt a collaboration. This was the first time the MC and the Jazz band performed live together. Did the different environment help? “It was very cosy”, Jyager says “it made everything feel more intimate and there was a better link with the audience.”
Seb Rochford started playing instruments when he was three and wanted to start his first band at four (“I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to play” he says in his low, gentle voice) and is happy to mix electric jazz with hip hop and drum n’ bass. He has played in various bands and as a solo artist all his life. He thinks that Westminster Reference Library is a “brilliant and lovely place.”
“The people running a show can make all the difference to the quality of the performance”, he told me while chopping up bits of pineapple for the homemade punch (his own recipe) that we distributed free of charge to the audience. “If the place is relaxed and friendly, the musicians are more likely to be relaxed and give more of themselves, the audience picks it up and it is a better show all round”
And no, we won’t mention his hair…
Polar Bear were nominated for the BBC Jazz Award in 2006 and for the Mercury Prize in 2005 and 2007. Jyager’s CD ‘Encripted Scriptures’ will be out in 2011.