Mammal Hands ‘Floa’ LP/CD/Dig (Gondwana) 4/5

mammal-handsHere is a welcome return for East Anglian band Mammal Hands who weigh in with a strong follow up to the excellent debut that came out Gondwana eighteen months ago in ‘Animalia’. Once again minimalist cover graphics, possibly a nod to the Factory label that became inextricably linked with the Manchester indie scene, make this CD stand out from the crowd and the same can certainly be said of the music within.
Mammal Hands have carved out their own distinctive path that takes on multiple influences that range from Sufi and African trance to eastern European and Irish folk influences. Contemporary improvised and electronica music are skilfully weaved into the mix and Weather Report are surely one of the major jazz influences for the band. This reviewer immediately warmed to the intimacy of ‘Hourglass’ and the ability of the band to conjure up seemingly simple, yet highly effective and melodic collective riffs, with an empathy between piano and saxophone evident here. That should come as little surprise since they are the brotherly nucleus of the band in pianist Nick Smart and saxophonist Jordan Smart. A real favourite is the North African flavoured ‘Think anything’ that has at once a supplementary and complementary Latin undercurrent with sensitive percussive accompaniment from regular drummer and tabla player, Jesse Barrett. At times the interplay between musicians takes the breath away as illustrated on the percussion plus saxophone intro to ‘Kudu’. Hints of acoustic period Steps Ahead emerge on ‘Hillum’, with another pretty folk-tinged melody and the lilting hues of ‘Quiet fire’. This is music for the twenty-first century, and very much in keeping with the musical ‘global village’ that we now inhabit. What marks Mammal Hands out from the rest is the creative use of such resources while still retaining their own image.

If Mammal Hands receive sufficient promotion, they will surely appeal to an audience well beyond the already committed jazz fraternity and there is floating quality to their work in general that is not without recalling the most lyrical of EST. Mammal Hands will be performing live on the bank holiday Saturday (27 May) at the launch of their new album in their native city of Norwich and on 31 May at the Jazz Café in London.

Tim Stenhouse