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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Friday, 26 August 2016 15:40

Mammal Hands - Floa

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Hands gain momentum. 

Floa is the second album by Mammal Hands; a trio comprising Jordan Smart on saxophone, brother Nick Smart on piano and Jesse Barnet on drums. Lacking a bass may seem a little unorthodox for a trio but this no issue as drumming is rhythmically strong and both piano and sax fill in a lot with heavily scored arrangements (reminding me at times of John Surman’s Road To St Ives).  Opening track Quiet Fire is a good example of this, with both sax and piano playing coordinated heavily rhythmic riffs. The piece crescendos to a very passionate saxophone refrain, which is revisited often after more freestyle interludes. 

Sax and drums open Hillum with a tribal beat over which piano takes simple open melody. The pace builds and wanes alternately, rising to a frenetic climax before the final fading.

Wavelike piano arpeggios set the mood for Hourglass, mimicked by soprano sax before it explodes into tormented wails. Barret’s light drumming keeps the pulse racing and we hear occasional tabla adding depth to the rhythm.

Then, amidst all the contemporary-sounding pieces, we have Think Anything…. a sound from another era. Calling to mind the style of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, the piece swings nicely with perfectly phrased solos from both sax and piano.

A simple saxophone refrain forms the background and relaxed beat to In The Treetops. Booming drums and spaced piano chords add depth, while the melody eventually comes from the guest strings (Gavin Barras - bass and Natalia Purton - violin and viola).

Jordan Smart’s skirling soprano sounds almost like Northumbrian pipes (that’s good btw) in the folky-sounding Eyes That Saw The Mountain.

In Kudu, saxophone introduces the melody, which then builds to frenetic pace.

The Falling Dream is a short soundscape of tumbling phrases.  We hear again the guest strings, adding a fullness to the sound.

In Shift, saxophone starts ethereally, while piano builds dramatically.  A heavy riff builds the pressure until the final quiet bars.

In old Norse, Floa means deluge or flow, and this album has the resounding energy of such. Mammal Hands make good use of dynamic shift, quiet to loud, slow to breakneck, that keeps the listener enthralled.  

I hadn’t heard their debut album Animalia (2014) prior to this but on listening it seems that while keeping the same interaction, the “Hands” have shifted significantly up-tempo and more dynamic with Floa and perhaps a little more fluid.

 

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