CD REVIEW: Mammal Hands – Animalia

Mammal Hands – Animalia
(Gondwana GOND011. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The opening track of this debut offering from Mammal Hands, Mansions of Millions of Years is laden with repetitive hooks, jaunty keys and doubled melodies. It provides a characteristically immersive introduction to the whole album. In just over two years this tight-knit piano/drums/saxophones trio has travelled from busking the streets of Norwich to playing the concert halls of London and the green fields of Love Supreme, a journey built on the hypnotic appeal of their sound.

Animalia is, however, much more than an exercise in contemplative atmospherics. The opening track disappears with a flamenco flourish finish into the stripped back Snow Bough, a brief scripted lament told by piano and saxophone speculatively meandering in unison, with only an occasional shimmer of cymbals behind. Pianist Nick Smart then takes control on the more extended progressive rock piano-led Kandaiki. While in Spinning the Wheel the trio play on their stripped back line up, with Jesse Barrett's thumping drums stepping in from the wings on an anthemic tune with a Bad Plus tinge, the piano's driving restlessness in Bustle, the sharp percussion and eager sax melodies give an impression that Mammal Hands are a forceful sextet a la Escalandrum instead of the taut trio that they are.

Inuit Party sees a strong group develop, and then begin to descend into the abyss as saxophonist Jordan Smart transitions from his previously clean and uncomplicated sound into a more free tone.

Earnest and intense, like contemporaries Portico Quartet and their label siblings Gogo Penguin they draw from ambient, dance and electronica circle as well as classical jazz composition, yet their bass-less back line allows them to approach these common points in a unique way. The trio are piano-led: at times intentionally sparse; at times immensely rich. They range from short musical poems like Snow Bough to epic key-change-strewn improvisational rampages, such as the album closer Tiny Crumb.

On the basis of this strong and varied debut album, Mammal Hands are an extremely interesting proposition.

The Animalia London Album Launch is on Friday 7th November at Rich Mix.

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