Album Reviews

Jaga Jazzist – One-Armed Bandit

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 25 January 2010

Nearly five years since the accomplished What We Must, Norway’s Jaga Jazzist has expanded from a core septet into a nine-piece, and the results on this, the band’s sixth album, are even deeper, richer and more detailed than what went before.

Ringleader Lars Horntveth set up Jaga when he was a mere 14-year-old and, with a band of talented fellow multi-instrumentalists, has built a formidable reputation in his Scandinavian homeland, developing a large, devoted following. On the strength of One-Armed Bandit, that homegrown success may well spread to produce a greater global fanbase.

The majority of the band have spent the past 15 years playing together and that developed understanding and musical telepathy shines through, leading to a homogenous whole where no one member of the team feels the need to force their ego into the mix by engaging in indulgent solos. Instead the music is detailed, cohesive and full of movement.

Starting out with a raucous jazz jam from Norwegian jazz band The Thing, (who just happened to be in Chicago at the same time as Jaga Jazzist were mixing the album with Tortoise‘s John McEntire), the title track then kicks in. Beginning like a harpsichord-led ’60s film soundtrack, a funk heavy bassline and jazz touches are then added to the mix. A phase that sounds remarkably like incidental Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-style game show music follows before a crazy, haphazard, Frank Zappa-esque break reintroduces the track’s main hook and then fades to a twinkling hush.

And that’s just the first track. It signals the shape of the rest of the album though, as each composition, many of which clock in at over six minutes, shifts and evolves through different phases. While this could all result in meandering self-indulgent jams of varying degrees of pretension, there is a focus that runs throughout, with defined sections to each track and hooks liberally strewn all over, making it an engaging, exciting and rewarding listen.

You can never be sure where you’re going to end up though. 200 V / Spectral starts out with a delicate piano line and gently parping bass but then opens up into a spacey, jazz-led wig out. The nagging Toccata gradually builds from synth and piano-led loops before the brass section moves in, injecting increasing drama and gravity. Book Of Glass starts off like a summery jaunt through sun-baked pastures, goes off on a jazzy tangent and then reaches a beautiful, melodic crescendo before repeating the whole dizzying process again. The final track, Touch Of Evil, meanwhile, sees a lullaby broken by a pounding kick drum, fast dub-style bassline and dark atmospherics.

There are clear prog and jazz funk influences in evidence but, while that may make some baulk and fear an onslaught of unlistenable twaddle, Jaga Jazzist take the best parts from those reference points, such as prog’s ever evolving nature, or the freedom and lack of creative constraints of jazz, and mix them into a joyful, celebratory whole. While by no means mainstream, the end result is unclich�d and imbued with such detail you will keep returning for another helping, noticing something new on every visit.

Walking a fine line between being leftfield and hook-laden, Jaga Jazzist have delivered another selection of epic, psychedelic sojourns through electronics, brass and beats that consistently engage and excite. One-Armed Bandit has the strength, originality and creative fire to go all the way.

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More on Jaga Jazzist
Jaga Jazzist @ Barbican, London
Interview: Jaga Jazzist
Jaga Jazzist @ Islington Academy, London
Jaga Jazzist – One-Armed Bandit
Jaga Jazzist – What We Must