Album Reviews

Jaga Jazzist – What We Must

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 25 April 2005

Jaga Jazzist are a ten-piece Norwegian band in which all members are given free-reign to express themselves equally with as much, or as little, flamboyance and enthusiasm as they wish. This, coupled with the fact they are signed to Ninja Tune, a leftfield label renowned for exploring the more obscure and abstract corners of electronica, may lead you to think What We Must will be a cacophonous racket of incompatible instruments battling for supremacy – but thankfully that could not be further from the truth.

It seems the egalitarian ethos means that every member of the band gets a chance to be heard but there are no signs of any rampaging egos, instead all of the constituent parts combine harmoniously to form a rich and powerful wall of sound. Electric guitar, trumpet, clarinet, violin, tuba and keyboards, amongst many other musical tools, are all thrown together but rather than the diversity of the elements creating an uncomfortably discordant mess they all compliment each other to create an end result that is often euphoric and at times fantastic.

Peppered with vibraphone and occasional, wordless vocal harmonies, each track progresses and transmutes throughout, the end results coming across like a collaboration between M83 and Mike Oldfield after swallowing a hefty dose of jazz. These evolving rock and folk-touched instrumentals are complimented by warm hues of brass, and as they progress through their different phases and sections they create an eager anticipation of what turn they may take next, commanding interest throughout.

All I Know Is Tonight begins with a blast of electric guitar and rasping trumpets before reaching a lighter plateau of twee clarinet and then getting stripped back to a simple guitar hook. All of the other instruments then return to the fray creating a broad, expansive symphony which ebbs and flows from joyfully brash to calmly melancholic, as indeed do most of the compositions on offer here. Swedenborgske Rom offers the only breather from this at times overpowering approach but main songwriter Lars Horntveth and co. still cannot resist building the laid-back blues, contemplatative piano and choral harmonies up into another wave of soaring guitar and crashing drums, to mesmerising effect.

There may only be seven tracks on offer but the album still exceeds the 45 minute mark and besides, any more of this aural feasting could make you feel bloated. Such lengthy tracks do evoke the much-maligned spirit of progressive rock and there is an essence of prog dinosaurs Pink Floyd about some of these constantly evolving compositions but they never veer too far towards self-indulgence and generally retain their focus and direction. Okay, certain moments mimic a cheesy seventies European film soundtrack but even the odd hint of lounge muzak is strangely endearing, contrasted as it is with other emotions and atmospheres, the sweetness of Mikado’s plinking xylophone kitsch offset by darker blasts of edgy psychedelic rock for example.

While Jaga Jazzist may not be able to match the Polyphonic Spree for numbers they do match them ecstatic crescendo for ecstatic crescendo, minus the happy clappy lyrics of course. Apparently the band wanted What We Must to reflect the energy and vibrancy of their live performances and on this showing they are well worth catching on stage when they tour these shores in June. These wide vistas of sound are guaranteed to top up your seratonin levels and force a smile on your face – prepare to be overwhelmed.

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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