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

mammal-handsEast Anglia may not be an obvious location for jazz, but trio Mammal Hands have come up with one of the year’s unexpected melodic gems of a recording that cuts across the boundaries of world roots, jazz and contemporary classical with just a touch of folk. They are the brainchild of Norwich born brothers Jordan and Nick Smart who perform on saxophones and keyboards respectively while Jesse Barrett handles drum and assorted percussion. If the evocatively titled opener ‘Mansions of millions of years’ sets the scene for what is to follow with some minimalist piano and soprano saxophone and is an undoubted album highlight, then the laconic winter-like sound of ‘Snow Bough’ is equally impressive. The languid, rolling piano and lyrical saxophone on ‘Spinning the wheel’ is positively ECM-esque while for a change of tempo, the percussive-led ‘Sweet Sweeper’ conjurs up the maelstrom of urban surroundings. Influences are diverse and include African and North Indian music as well as Steve Reich and Pharoah Sanders. There are shades of a Michael Nyman soundtrack on the folk-infused ‘Kanadaiki’. What marks this trio out is the excellence of the compositions as well as a tightly knit sound. A performance with the Gondwana Orchestra at Ronnie Scott’s in mid-July was the first taste of the ensemble sound in a live context at a major venue and will surely be a foretaste of further performances across the country. A group to definitely watch out for.

Tim Stenhouse