Better late than never… on Thursday I was at the middle night of Polar Bear’s mini-festival at the Spitz. The band themselves were playing that night; I’ve seen a few of their members a few times in other line-ups over the years, but this was my first encounter with Polar Bear itself. They were, predictably, outstanding. Seb Roachford on drums is amazing, particularly for someone like me whose ears aren’t particularly jazz-tuned. When I saw the late Elvin Jones at Ronnie Scott’s a few years back I was impressed by the brilliance of his technique, but I’ve gotta say – even though I believe he was on top form that night – my jaw never dropped. Without going overboard with the comparisons, Roachford, on the other hand has stunned me every time I’ve seen him, with a loose, but crisp style and an impeccable ear for texture and balance.
Second on the bill, Rambler favourites the Elysian Quartet were great value as always – they played some of the same material as at their last Cargo gig, and Ben H will probably be pleased to note that it was much crisper this time; the Prokofiev in particular sounded much improved. Another neat turn was their Neu! 2’d up version of Purcell’s G minor Chaconne, complete with record skips and reverse-spooling tape effects (both written out and played live).
But first on the bill, and the sweetest surprise, was Princess and the Pervert (myspace) playing what was, apparently, her first gig with her own material. And she ruled. We came in a bit late and she was playing some loose, mellow stuff with her band – electric viola, guitar, bass, flute/tabla – which was cool. But then the band left her solo, and she pulled up a stool to play her viola guitar-style and sing. And it turns out she’s actually Aretha Hendrix. On viola. She can play, these intricate fuzzy wah-wah accompaniments to her songs of love and personal tragedy, and boy can she sing. At the end of her set she brought the band back, with kit drums too, for a fully rocking wig-out, but it was the solo material that really stayed with you. This is one you have to catch.