Album Remarks & Appraisals:
NORWEGIAN 9 PIECE RETURN WITH AN ASTOUNDING RECORD - JAZZ, INDIE, MINIMALISM, FUNK & MORE! It's impossible to pin this Norwegian Nonet down in terms of one genre. There are elements of jazz, jazz-fusion, prog rock, electronics, widescreen rock, classical, PHILLIP GLASS / STEVE REICH minimalism, ISAAC HAYES chase scene cinematic funk - we could go on & on and still not sum them up accurately. Band leader Lars Horvath describes JAGA JAZZIST's their new album as "Wagner meets Fela Kuti"! But what comes out of this blend is a truly exciting roller coaster ride that is more about fun, melody & feel than showing off.
"After a five-year break from recording, Jaga Jazzist is back. The Norwegian group's Molde Jazz 2009 performance - its first in four years, barring a single 2007 date in Singapore - provided clear evidence that the touchstones defining this sibling-run group remain intact (multi-instrumentalist Lars Horntveth writes all the music; percussionist Martin Horntveth is the onstage spokesperson for the band; and sister Line Horntveth, in addition to tuba, flute and vocals, acts as the publicity face for the group). But there have been some changes afoot as well. Performing much of One-Armed Bandit at Molde, Jaga Jazzist's mélange of rock energy, jazz vernacular, minimalistic tendencies, episodic composition, expansive instrumentation and electronic manipulation has never sounded better. Not since 1970s British progsters Gentle Giant has there been a group combining so many multi-instrumentalists, playing music so complex and ever-shifting that it's a paradoxically exhausting yet exhilarating experience just trying to keep up with who's playing what.
The comparison to Giant is superficial at best, though Jaga Jazzist shares its ability to couch detailed writing with visceral rhythms that ground even the most byzantine tracks. This may be music for the mind in its challenging metric shifts, elaborate counterpoint and textural expansiveness, but it's also music for the body. Even as trumpets, trombones, saxophones and tuba coincide and alternate with angular guitars, vibraphones, harps and keyboards, it's almost impossible to experience propulsive tracks like the riff-driven, near-blues of "Bananfleur Overalt" or the Frank Zappa-esque title track - even the irregularly metered "Music! Dance! Drama!" - without engaging in a little booty shaking.
There have been some personnel shifts in the group, even as it trims down from the tentet of What We Must (Ninja Tune, 2005) to One-Armed Bandit's leaner nonet. Most significant is the recruitment of guitarist/harpist/percussionist Stian Westerhus, who returned to Norway after a number of years abroad and has done a terrific job of finding his way into everything from the big band free improv of Crimetime Orchestra and Monolithic's equally extreme Black Science (Vendlus, 2009) to his beautifully packaged solo LP, Galore (2009), on Rune Grammofon's The Last Record Company imprint. He plays far more arrangement on One-Armed Bandit than he did in performance at Molde; a sonic explorer who lends a vital new edge to Jaga Jazzist.
But longstanding JJ'ers, including vibraphonist/marimbist/guitarist/keyboardist Andreas Mjøs and trumpeter/bassist/keyboardist/French hornist Mathias Eick - whose own career as a leader has been on an upward trajectory since the release ofThe Door (ECM, 2008) - keep momentum and color moving forward on tracks like the synth-laden, densely guitar-driven "220 V/Spektral" and tuned percussion-heavy "Toccatta," which suggests how Philip Glassmight sound, were he to add a kick-ass drummer to the mix.
Jaga Jazzist's international success has been something of a remarkable confluence, but proves that music needn't be dumbed down to find an audience. With the unfailingly exciting One-Armed Bandit, Already brilliant, Jaga Jazzist continues to make music as deep as it is danceable, with a revised line-up that will no doubt get even better with more touring under its belt. And that's a scary prospect." -AllAboutJazz
JazzTimes (p.66) - "'Toccata' lives up to its title, a spry keyboard leading into grand, Wagner-esque proclamations."
Pitchfork (Website) - "Woodwinds, brass, and a Fender Rhodes often carry Jaga's melodies, but electric guitars hold the line just as often. Their percussion, while intricate, is always brawny and propulsive."
Clash (magazine) - "Big layers of instruments dual with and complement each other via weird time signatures, and inspired, complex riffs that sound like they're scoring a car chase from a cult Seventies film..."
Personnel: Line Horntveth (vocals, flute, tuba, glockenspiel, percussion); Lars Horntveth (guitar, lap steel guitar, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, piano, keyboards, programming); Andreas Mjos (guitar, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, percussion); Stian Westerhus (electric guitar, 12-string guitar, baritone guitar, harp, percussion); Martin Horntveth (mandolin harp, psaltery, drums, drum machine, temple blocks, percussion, bells, programming); Mathias Eick (trumpet, French horn, piano, keyboards, upright bass); Erik Johannessen (trombone); Oystein Moen (piano, organ, synthesizer, percussion); Even Ormestad (keyboards, glockenspiel, percussion); Jorgen Træen (programming).
Audio Mixers: Chris Sansom ; Mike Hartung; John McEntire.
Recording information: Cabin Recorders and Wallpaper, Oslo, Norway (12/2008).
Photographer: Morten Spaberg.
Arrangers: Jaga Jazzist; Jorgen Træen.
Jaga Jazzist's least jazz-rooted, most prog album to date, One-Armed Bandit is not associable with Tortoise and 2000s-era Stereolab merely for the assistance of John McEntire, who mixed it and is credited with analog synth processing. Echoing, at various points, both bands at their most rocking, Baroque, and searching, One-Armed Bandit dazzles early on. Throughout the 13 minutes that make up the title track and the following "Bananfleur Overalt," the listener is pulled through a suspenseful succession of passages, like a score to a Mediterranean tropical cyclone, that work in tight-riffing bass clarinet, zipping vibraphone, buzzing guitar, sighing pedal steel, dancing harpsichord, and even some distant skronk-sax over galloping and tapping rhythms that switch time signatures with an oddly elegant twitchiness. Later portions of the album are larded with so many graceless, attention-deficit hazards that it's unknown exactly what the band (or is that "groop"?) was attempting to accomplish -- perhaps a challenge or, more specifically, instrumental paeans to Frank Zappa and Mars Volta with horn charts. ~ Andy Kellman