Speaking in both contemporary and historical context, the term ‘prog’ is undeniably more closely associated with the rock and metal realm than with any other genre. When the word enters your mind, there’s a good chance you’ll envision the renowned prog-rock movement of the mid-to-late 1960’s, and the subsequent influence and development that’s been drawn from it. For this reason, the word, even in its broadest context, is generally considered to be a sub-genre of rock or metal. At It Djents, we certainly wouldn’t deny that we’re complicit in contributing to this generalization. However, as time presses on and the incalculable, malleable animal that is music perseveres in adopting different niches and nuances each day, we’re assuredly becoming more and more partial to exploring other genres, and this is a principle that has carried forth into this week’s Weekly Featured Artist. So, without further ado, we’re very pleased to present our official featured artist of the week, UK-based progressive jazz trio Mammal Hands.
Self-proclaimed as “a trio of like-minded musicians”, Mammal Hands have been thriving in the scene since 2014 upon the release of their debut album Animalia, having originally met in Norwich, UK in 2012. The outfit consists of pianist Nick Smart, percussionist Jesse Barrett, and saxophonist Jordan Smart; a minimalist but efficacious lineup, and certainly a jazz-oriented one. In terms of discography, the band have thus far unhanded two official releases via independent record label Gondwana Records: the aforementioned Animalia was released in 2014 as their official debut, and was succeeded two years later by 2016’s Floa. In addition, the group just released “Black Sails”, the lead single from the forthcoming third attempt Shadow Work. Despite essentially being newcomers, this outfit seem to already be making waves in the scene, achieving such feats as playing shows at King’s Place in London, the RNCM in Manchester, and a highly successful appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival, where they appeared as part of the BBC’s ‘introducing’ programme. It’s safe to say that, in addition to creating great music, Mammal Hands are already achieving great things, and one can only hope that they’re on their way to success.
Let’s take a look at the music itself. In a nutshell, what this outfit seem to represent is a refreshing and enticing amalgamation of both modern and classic styles. Elements of traditional saxophone work and free-jazz are certainly at play throughout and serve to create the aura of a classic jazz feel and sound, whilst being tastefully accompanied by certain modern influences, including drumming reminiscent of contemporary electronic music (Bonobo and Tycho both come to mind). All of this is fittingly topped off with a flurry of time and tempo changes, and significantly progressive twists that are littered throughout the songwriting. The end product is certainly eclectic and intriguing, and could conceivably appeal to fans of various different styles of music.
Needless to say as this may be, the recognition of sheer musicianship is a cognition that strikes me instantly when listening to Mammal Hands. The composition, the performance, and the passion are all palpably stunning, and this is something that draws me to this band over and over again. Having said this, there are some more simplistic musical elements at play within the sound, that are delivered subtly but excellently. Traditionally melodic hooks are a shining example of this, and these tend to come in the form of catchy saxophone licks; the chorus section in Floa‘s “Quiet Fire” demonstrates this perfectly, with a contagiously catchy melody dominating the chorus, and giving the song that extra dimension of character that is sometimes very much needed in music. This approach is performed repeatedly by these guys, and is perhaps what most characterizes the modern aspect of their sound, and sets them apart from simply being a traditional jazz outfit.
Mammal Hands are truly an intriguing and inspiring outfit, and serve to offer a progressive and inventive mashup of jazz, electronica, folk, and other musical influences, creating something that acts as a display of true musicianship. As I mentioned before, outfits such a this one do provide people like me with a refreshing deviation from reviewing rock and metal oriented music, but in reality they are much more than that; this is an artist that everyone should listen to in any given mood or situation, and one that should feasibly appeal to fans of any genre or style. Not only do we wish bands such as Mammal Hands the greatest success and prosperity, but what we hope even more is that they will be an example of many more to come that will ultimately allow jazz to further interject itself into the fore of modern progressive music, and continue to shape the genre even further.