Big Issue column 32

First published in The Big Issue, 23-30 March

Polar Bear is London’s fiercely imaginative jazz-ish five-piece led by drummer Seb Rochford. Their new album is called In Each and Every One and it’s a dazzling listen. The first track, Open See, takes us hazily down the rabbit hole, where we’re immersed in a roaming, grooving, outlandish world of catchy beats, staunch folk tunes, nightmarish episodes and daft synth-pop. It’s kaleidoscopic and never trite; Rochford and company play clever tricks with our aural perspective – now we’re dreaming, now we’re right here and very awake. Everything is delivered with the classy virtuosity and flare you’d expect from this band. [LEAF LC 12877] No doubt it’ll make a great live show, too: catch Polar Bear on tour in Manchester, 20 March; Leeds, 21 March; Bristol, 22 March; Brighton, 26 March; Birmingham, 27 March; Nottingham, 28 March; Norwich, 29 March; London, 2 April; Oxford, 3 April and Gateshead, 6 April.

It was back in the 1950s that Sir Neville Marriner – then a 30-something violinist called plain Neville; the knighthood came a good three decades later – began inviting musician friends to his London living room to play orchestral music without a conductor. The spirited band made their public debut in 1958 at the church on Trafalgar Square that has lent them its name ever since. Marriner directed from the leader’s chair, and continued to do so for the next 60 years; now he’s turning 90 and has passed on the baton, so to speak, to the American violinist Joshua Bell, but his name is still irrevocably linked with the orchestra that he founded and led for so long. The ASMF celebrate Marriner’s birthday with a concert featuring pianist Murray Periah, Bell and – of course – Sir Neville himself. Royal Festival Hall, London, 1 April

Speaking of conductorless ensembles, the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes continues what he calls his ‘Beethoven journey’ with a new recording of the second and fourth concertos. He directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in performances that are intimate, sensitive, muscular and bold. There’s a real sense of conversation between piano and orchestra; Andsnes doesn’t so much lead as discuss with his fellow musicians, and there’s a gripping sense of clarity and commitment from everyone on the disc. Two years ago they recorded the first and third concertos together, also without a conductor, also brilliantly. Whether they can keep up the format for the vast and unbiddable Fifth remains to be seen, but it’s been a fabulous journey so far. [Sony 88883705482]

Some intriguing concerts of piano duets coming up. Husband-and-wife team Pascal and Ami Roge are dedicated ambassadors for French music – they released an album of music for four hands by Debussy and Ravel last year (Onyx Classics) on which they bring shimmering colours and fresh insight to Ravel’s Sonatine and Rhapsodie Espagnole and Debussy’s La Mer. Hear them perform that repertoire at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds on 10 April. Meanwhile Benjamin Frith and Peter Hill, two of our finest contemporary music specialists, tackle Stravinsky’s double-piano version of The Rite of Spring: a ferociously percussive, direct and distilled version of the cataclysmic ballet score. Cardiff, 28 March

AND ANOTHER THING: Period-instrument chamber outfit Florilegium bring poise and gentle flourish to their latest recording of Couperin’s Les Nations and music by Jean-Féry Rebel. [Channel Classics 33213]

GO TO: Counterflows. The festival of underground music and eclectic experimentalism fosters exciting between its artists; in the spotlight this year is legendary saxophonist Joe McPhee. Glasgow, 4-6 April