Joshua Jaswon Octet: Polar Waters review – a soaring blend of jazz and poetry

The saxophonist’s heartfelt album on ecological themes is adventurous and musically playful

London-born alto saxophonist Joshua Jaswon was so appalled by Brexit that he moved to Berlin to pursue his ambitions as band leader and composer. In 2020 he delivered Silent Sea, a moving commentary on ecology and populism, played with gusto by his pan-European eight-piece and incorporating poems from a collection by the Scottish poet Jackie Kay. Polar Waters follows a similar course, being centred on oceanic themes, its music entwined with assorted modern poems given voice by the brilliant Dutch singer Anna Serierse.

It’s a heartfelt album, but more playful than its earnest themes suggest. Jaswon’s vision for jazz is unusual; he likes the swell and drive of a brassy big band, but also the more intimate moments of a small group, where guitarist Johannes Mann shines, while Jaswon’s octet executes his occasionally demanding arrangements faultlessly. The celebratory Swimming in Winter gets two versions; one bright and noisy, the other, led by Jaswon’s soprano sax, meditative. Claire Cox’s four-part Seasick is both angry and elegiac, with Serierse’s vocals soaring above the band, who are in rumbustious mood on Bright Polar Waters. Jaswon’s dream of a meld between music, poetry and science (stimulated by Oxford’s three “SciPo” anthologies) is on course.

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