released Jan 26, 2010
from the album - Bananfluer Overalt
YouTube - Jaga Jazzist - Bananfluer Overalt
Jaga Jazzist, a nine-piece Norwegian ensemble, is among the leadings lights of the new Scandinavian jazz, but their sound resonates strongly with North American-style post-rock, too. 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. Their music is structured as to allow for a broad variety of genre allusions, from classical to krautrock. And it revels in tension and release, albeit with more instrumental dexterity than many post-rock bands can muster. Each of their albums seems like a new negotiation between art music and pop music, as if they still aren't sure which kind of band they are, and how much they can get away with on either side.
Jaga's last LP, 2005's What We Must, was excellent in part because it felt unequivocal-- it was Jaga Jazzist being a rock band, without compunction. Many of its most thrilling qualities are retained on One-Armed Bandit. The floaty UFO themes from bandleader Lars Horntveth's Kaleidoscopic are present in force, and some less-standard Jaga elements-- tropical polyrhythms, modernist patterns, and even techno-inspired synth sequences-- make their sound heartier than before. They also make it more diffused, and the new album lacks the emphatic clarity of What We Must. It's clinically better, but slightly less loveable, emphasizing virtuosity at the occasional expense of immediacy.
Sometimes, like Jon Hassell's good-despite-itself 2009 album, Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street, it just gets a little too swanky for comfort. The thumping bass and woodwind grooves are usually pleasing, but occasionally slide into mildly numbing, session-honed clichés. At these times, you get the sense that the band can churn out rock-solid modulations all day, which is admirable but not that exciting. And sometimes, they just try to do too much, although this becomes egregious only once in a while: "220 V / Spektral" starts off great, with chimes and tiny pianos and guitars trickling in smart little trills. But this arrangement barely has time to shape up before it breaks into a jazzy lope, then bends krautward with acidic guitar chords, swoops down into spacey funk, rocks out, krauts up again... you see how this is going too far, too fast. We can't keep up, and the band seems so focused on their chops they probably don't even notice we're panting in the dust cloud behind them.
But when the variations are more subtle and less blatantly showy, they're terrific. On the title track, questing horn lines unravel around a dancing, medieval-sounding arpeggio, which later reappears voiced more like a kalimba, with the rolling bass now in the forefront, lean with distortion. Seamlessly, the back becomes the front and the front, the back. Then there's a galloping quick-time bridge, with slow peals of brass prefiguring a crashing climax, which verges on a free-jazz shriek. All these prismatic refractions point to one clear, climbing shape-- a song you can hold onto, even as its surface morphs and streams. On "Bananfleur Overalt", the interludes of terse funk and pounding minimalism keep bringing us back to the wonderfully songful theme. And on the long "Toccata", a taut weave of hypnotic synth tones brightens with natural piano sounds, culminating with righteously skipping horns-- a somehow-straight line between cerebral shimmer and spiritual fire. One-Armed Bandit occasionally overshoots the mark, but when it doesn't, the scenic route it took to get there proves worthwhile.
1. "The Thing Introduces..."
2. "One-Armed Bandit"
3. "Bananfluer Overalt"
4. "220 V / Spektral"
7. "Book Of Glass"
8. "Music! Dance! Drama!"
9. "Touch Of Evil"