The group Friendly Bears has been performing together since the Fall of 2000 (back then under their former name of Osos Amistosos), and such the group has had a lot of time to experiment and find a sound. With their 2005 album “On Oceans Light and Sleep” they have moved away from being a pure jazz outfit to something a bit different. The new sound can best be classified, if it is possible to put a label on it, as Fusion Jazz, seeing as funk/ rock/ rhythm/blues can all be heard being mixed with the typically sultry jazz.
There is definitely an avant-garde, experimental feeling that course throughout each song. Each song is as a result different, feeling as if new ground is broken each time you switch from one number to the next. The term is experience-as each lengthy piece wants to take you to a different place, make you experience wildly different emotions. Saying that then, it would be wiser to describe each song in turn, as all of them are almost like a album themselves.
Everything opens with the ethereal song “Light”, which has a more techno tinge to it and takes one to an eerie place. The second, “Female Savior”, transports us to the mental image of smoke filled bars and tough guys though with its jazzy and upbeat sound (though it is by no means one hundred percent conventional either). That is followed by “Shams of Tabriz”, which shocks the listener back to reality with a sound that is more violent than all the other. This song is an intriguing mix of rock and jazz backed up by passionate vocals. Arriving at the mid-point is the fourth track with the intriguing name “Diphenhydramine”. Sadness and melancholy comes to mind as the slow (almost hesitant) music washes over you in waves of jazz with a tad of blues. Track number five, “A Doubtful Case”, live up to the name as the sudden changes makes you wonder what will come next. The beautiful, warm female vocals in this track complement the experimental jazz that is on display in this particular song. Sixth is “To Arhats”, a song that starts serene and then progresses until it almost sounds like a desperate call for help and then an abrupt sinister end. “To Bears”, the seventh and track with the longest run time, is both emotively melodic and discreet at the same time. At times it almost has the feel of being a marriage between jazz and classical. The eighth and final track on “On Oceans Light and Sleep” titled “Empty Warmth” is stripped down and minimalist, as the soft and lazy chords lull us into sleep after our exhausting journey with the experimental outfit.
Although the complexity won’t be for everyone, it is still a pleasure to travel through the eclectic soundscape that this inventive group has created. This is a musical journey in the truest sense of the term. For lovers of jazz the album “On Oceans Light and Sleep” is a must have, as it pushes the boundaries for this genre of music and mixes it carefully so that it creates something that is more than the sum of its parts.