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AAA Music | 19 June 2024

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| On 09, Oct 2014


Animalia, Mammal Hands’ first album, was released on the 15th of September. The eight-track album features interesting rhythmic figures, opulent harmonies and minimalist-inspired vamps. Brothers, Nick Smart (keyboards), and Jordan Smart (saxophones) along with drummer Jesse Barrett formed the band in 2012, whilst busking in Norwich and have been playing at prestigious venues and events, such as King’s Place in London (read out review here…) and Love Supreme Jazz Festival, Glynde, over the last two years. Cited influences include Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Pharoah Sanders and traditions such as Indian Classical music, brought to the table by Jesse Barrett who has studied with tabla player Sirishkumar.

There are some really stimulating grooves that appear on the album but they could have been further developed and used to create a greater pallet of colours and textures. ‘Bustle’, which begins with a cool lopsided 7/8 groove has great potential but it doesn’t seem to build on the initial energy laid down by the riff in the piano. The melodic role of the saxophone is not used to its full potential and perhaps this contributes to a general loss of focus. This seems to be a continuous problem throughout the album – the tunes are very rhythm-orientated and although they express at times compelling ideas, the compositional self-evaluation seems a little contrived. This results in relatively formulaic structures and indistinct differentiating features between pieces.

I think the minimalism works really well and would have liked to hear it pushed even further for a more focused sound. The feeling that the album as a whole lacks narrative and variation in colour could be exacerbated by the fairly rigid roles fulfilled by each instrumentalist along with a lack of creative spontaneity. Mammal Hands remind me of Christian Scott in the sound world they have created, the major difference being that on-going group improvisation and creative dialogue are much more of a priority in the band of the New Orleans trumpet player.

The combination of instruments has potential to be really explorative but the sax sound is imprecise and lacks maturity, at times the tuning negatively affecting the overall impression. Again, some variation of timbre would add depth and subtlety to a relatively one-dimensional sax tone. This said, Jordan Smart has a nice sense of melodic contour which is reminiscent of Rob Buckland (particularly evident in ‘Snow Bough’). I like the way Nick Smart and Jesse Barrett have locked into each other’s time feel but it could be more implied, playing outside of the written grooves.

Overall the ideas this album lays down have lots of potential and there is evidently good chemistry between the three members of the band; I would be interested to hear them live to see what their onstage energy is like. However, Animalia leaves me feeling slightly unsatisfied and curious to find out where their musical endeavours take them in the future.

Heather Ryall

Check out our review of Mammal Hands’ ‘Mansions Of Millions Of Years’…