“The semi-classical drums/sax/piano trio Mammal Hands mutate into a high-volume rave act”
Captivating, ethereal and majestic, Mammal Hands(saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smartand drummer and percussionist Jesse Barrett) has carved out a refreshingly original sound from a disparatearray of influences: drawing on spiritual jazz, north Indian, folk and classical music to create something inimitably their own. Hailing from Norwich, one of Britain’s most isolated and most easterly cities, they have forged their own path away from the musical mainstream and their unique sound grew out of long improvised rehearsals. All three members contribute equally to the writing process: one that favours the creation of a powerful group dynamic over individual solos. Their records are entrancing and beautiful affairs, while their hypnotic live shows have seen them hailed as one of the most exciting bands in Europe as they push their unique line-up to the outer limits of its possibilities.
Shadow Workis their third album and the first they have self-produced. Recorded at 80 Hertz Studios, Gondwana Records home from home in Manchester, it is the result of 18 months of intensive touring and mammoth writing sessions. The energy from their exhilarating live performances has fed into the writing process and yet there is a quiet reflective side to this album, giving it an expanded emotional range that draws the listener deep into Mammal Hand’s sound world. One that builds on the sound of their previous recordings, Animaliaand the beautiful Floa, but is wider than ever, with the use of prepared piano strings, more prominent effects and field recordings all adding to the band’s most ambitious and accomplished album to date. The striking artwork is by Daniel Halsalland reflects the organic, natural influences underpinning the band’s music alongside a darker, modern minimalism.
The album opens with the catchy Black Sails, a track that emerged through a group improvisation, it’s a high-energy piece with a lot of forward motion and lots of dynamic shifts that make full use of deceptively simple ideas. The elegant Wringeris one of the tracks that came from experimenting with muting the sound of the piano using felt and explores a different side to the band’s personality. Boreal Forestbuilds from something small to something huge and the intense finale incorporates forceful group playing and electronic influenced beats. Solitary Bee, the other track that utilises muting of the piano, conjures everyday things and spaces with a chorus melody that is influenced by modern Irish and folk tunes, and was composed on wooden flute. Three Good Thingsstarts with a slow passage, utilising a drum kit heavily altered by the use of metal objects, it builds to a piano and tabla duet, before a heavier groove section segues back to the tune. The wistful Living Frostopens with the tabla bass leading us into a 7/8 tune that slowly grows and mutates into a forceful chorus full of emotion, before a slow spacious outro with strings. Near Far is an improvised piece by Nick Smart, recorded during a quiet moment in the studio, it was an unplanned and reflective piece that seemed to fit naturally with the rest of the material. One of the album’s many stand out tracks, Straight Up Rainingis another composition that draws heavily on folk music. While the outro has some minimalist/electronic style piano parts mixed with heavily effected sax and rolling drum grooves. The epic Transfixedstarts with the group playing one note in unison and unfolds from there, building from a minimalist theme to something more complex and powerful where Jesse’s unique hybrid drums and tabla set-up with nick’s piano and rhodes drives Jordan’s soloing. Finally, the album ends with the pastoral Being Here, a recording that was made during a session at their own recording space in Norwich, when Nick improvised a piano part and Jordan captured some singing birds and field recordings from around the area and garden, together with some samples of a bowed vibraphone. It offers an aural representation of where this album was written but also offers a beautiful ending to a journey through Mammal Hands’ musical world: one where folk and classical influences rub alongside modern production techniques and 21stcentury spiritual-jazz to create something wonderful and new and wholly their own.