Having seen their latest album score them another Top 10 chart placing in their Scandinavian homeland, Norwegian nine-piece Jaga Jazzist have seen their stock rising on these shores too.
The band’s increasing popularity away from Norway, buoyed by latest long-player One-Armed Bandit, is exemplified perfectly by the crush of bodies inside the Islington Academy tonight, which is so rammed it’s almost uncomfortable.
But when the band, masterminded by composer Lars Horntveth, do strike up, it’s clear to see how they’ve built such a healthy momentum. Taking over the whole stage and filling it with their presence, the nine members synchronise, breaking into their latest material. They artfully manage to concoct a musical cocktail that combines jazz with prog rock references but is drenched in melody and movement and, thankfully, lacks any self-indulgence; rather, they produce jazz with a modern twist that successfully avoids being overly noodly or pretentious.
As another evolving, hook-filled epic twinkles and squirms out of the speakers, each member of the band looks lost in the moment. From the intense closed-eyed reverie of keyboard player ystein Moen, to the ear-to-ear grin of trombonist Erik Johannessen, to madly bearded drummer, Martin Horntveth who sits at the front of the stage directing, it’s this clear passion that makes Jaga Jazzist such an exciting prospect live.
With each member successful in their own right, instruments are swapped, at times mid-song, betraying the clear talent and musicianship that runs throughout the band. Visually they may dance along the blurred boundaries between geek and cool but their music transcends all of that. From sax to keyboard to maraca to tuba, countless instruments are thrown into the mix, resulting in a full-bodied sound that’s sometimes intense, at others fragile.
Together they create and share an energy that washes in waves from the stage, engulfing the audience. The gentle, piano-led beginnings of Toccata gradually build and then burst like an aural firework display over the crowd. Each tightly choreographed track comes across like an organised cohesive jam, as cheery twinkling funk mixes with jazz and post rock. One richly layered jam gives way to another extended brass workout complete with a strobe-lit wigout midway through.
Back catalogue favourite All I Know Is Tonight receives a fantastic response from the audience before another new offering Touch Of Evil, which flits from dark atmospherics to jaunty electronics in a stroke, whips the heaving crowd up further. The encore comes in the form of Prognissekongen (which loosely translated means King Of The Prog Gnomes) and while the second encore may stretch proceedings just a little too far (with each composition lasting well over five minutes), this is the sound of a confident, creative and original band on the cusp of wider success and acclaim.
As the whooping, sardined audience would no doubt agree, Jaga Jazzist’s star is in the ascendant.