A quick look at the history of Oddarrang shows that back in 2007 they were awarded Jazz Album of The Year in Norway, and that they also put in a good account of themselves at London’s 2012 Jazz Festival. All of which would lead to the obvious conclusion that Odderrang are almost certainly one of the leading lights in the contemporary jazz scene, not just in their homeland, but perhaps globally too.
Spend a little time in the company of Agartha and it becomes clear that this is not a band that operates solely within a single musical field. In fact, Agartha barely shows any signs of being the product of a band that’s highly regarded in jazz circles (or spirals, as jazz is often wont to do). Instead, this is an album that incorporates a cornucopia of musical styles and weaves them together perfectly to create a cohesive and quite elegant whole. There’s little in the way of sharp turns, angular solos, or uncomfortable clashes of styles, which is something that often scuppers most bands that attempt to straddle genres.
Part of this is down to the somewhat ethereal and subdued nature of much of Agartha. This is an album that drifts along with a quiet grace, and preferring subtlety over sharp jabs or explosions of distortion the key to its impact lies in the band’s ability to ratchet up the emotional resonance of these pieces without relying on bombast.
Sitting at the heart of the album is Mass I-III, a 10 minute amble that showcases just what it is that Oddarrang do so well. Starting with aching strings and swelling brass, it has more in common with pastoral symphonies than anything else, Vaughan Williams would be proud. With the introduction of lightly plucked guitars, carefully executed swells from the brass and some atmospheric synth it incorporates elements of classical, folk and ambient washes beautifully. It’s only towards the end of the song where elements of space rock and the band’s jazz influence can be heard (thanks, primarily to the inventive drumming). This is not a band merely flexing its musical muscles in an attempt to showcase its intelligence however; this is a carefully crafted and emotionally affecting exposition.
Back at the start, the band keeps things mysterious and low key, never really over-playing its hand. It’s here that they’re at their shimmering best, occupying a place where Hawkwind have discovered post-rock. For some reason, that place seems to be a colliery where the local brass band has convened for rehearsal.
Central Sun finds the band emerging from the post-rock mists and veering towards a more direct prog approach. The brass and vocals hold the key melodies as Odderrang embrace melody over mood. Admiral Byrd’s Flight taps into the same barrel, seeking gratification from clever melodies. This finds the band exploring folk and the same barren planet as Jeff Wayne’s prog-musical War Of The Worlds before morphing into a strange, stabbing climax.
It’s perhaps Telos / Agartha that sums up the album most coherently. Starting out as a mournful cello and trombone piece it transitions through an electronic soundscape on its way to a brooding post-rock section that would not be out of place on a Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, before reaching its climax with a soaring explosion of no-nonsense rock. The term journey is all too often applied to songs these days thanks to the stunted critical narrative of TV pop judges, but it can be correctly applied to Telos / Agartha as Oddarrang plot their route from the surface right down into the centre of the earth. It makes sense that there’s nothing but molten rock once they reach their destination.