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Norwegian collective Jaga Jazzist don't sit comfortably within genre boundaries. Their earlier UK Ninja Tune releases like A Livingroom Hush (2001) and The Stix (2003) suggested a marriage of jazz texture with glitchy, breakbeat driven electronica in a way that was both diverting and interesting, if likely to incite the wrath of the more traditional jazz fan were it to be described as more than "jazz influenced." Later records such as 2005's What We Must and 2008's One Armed Bandit showed a more noticeable prog-jazz influence, that has become increasingly modish in jazz circles over recent years (e.g. the UK's own Troyka), and it is the latter set that versions of four of the eight tracks are drawn from here.
The collaboration with the Britten Sinfonia came about following an introduction from BBC Radio 3's Fiona Talkington, mainstay of that station's fab Late Junction programme for open minded insomniacs. Two shows were held during 2012, one at the Barbican in London and one in Oslo's Rockefeller Plaza, and this wonderful disc is a record of the event. While we are usually cautioned to not judge a record by its coverhere it is instructively literal. The cover is a performance shot of the live set made to look like a 3D picture or filmthe clear implication being that the album will open out greater space in the recordings allowing you the opportunity to better appreciate and luxuriate in the depth of the different musical levels and textures here. And so it mostly is.
Older pieces like closer "Oslo Skyline" deliver on the promise of dynamic space and musical "crunch" in the original studio recordings, while new piece "Prungen" suggests an intriguing eastern influence. The two killer tracks, however, are the extended versions of "One-Armed Bandit" and "Banafluer Overalt"the latter even feels reminiscent of Miles Davis and Gil Evans' collaborations in its opening segment. Both of these tracks are an almighty stew of different musicsfrom movie themes like John Barry's "Ipcress File" or Roy Budd's "Get Carter" through Steve Reich's modern orchestral works to the subtle, soulful electronica of the Cinematic Orchestra or even United Future Organisation. All of this would be for nothing if it were not such an accessible listenthere's enough in the initial plays to snag the attention, yet further repetitions reveal much additional detail that indicates that the music will continue to engage and interest over an extended period.
The reason for this is the absolutely staggering multi instrumental virtuosity of Jaga Jazzistthe sleeve notes list the nine members as playing some 33 instruments between them during the live performance and that, of course, is before we have even mentioned the Britten Sinfonia! So, for instance, the likes of Mathias Eick, who has recorded a couple of ECM CDs as band leader with his primary instrument as trumpet, features not only on that instrument but also on upright bass, keyboards, piano and vibraphone.
When we have one of the albums of the year here does it matter that its genre doesn't fit cosily into the existing media channels? Creatively of course not, but in an increasingly conservative jazz marketplace you have to wonder how much longer it will be possible to make large ensemble records like thisthe sheer cost of staging such events would appear to be prohibitive. Yet if we are to take the music to a new audience in these austere times we need acts like Jaga Jazzist to have the commercial backing to follow their creative impulses. Regrettably it appears that most of our major record companies are content to repackage the greats of the 1950s and 1960s in ever more lavish curatorial box sets rather than seek out fresh talent to offset the double whammy of the 50 year copyright rule and illegal downloads.
Track Listing: One-Armed Bandit;
For All You Happy People;
Music! Dance! Drama!;
Personnel: Marcus Foresgren: electric guitar and FX;
Andreas Mjos: vibraphone, guitar, Korg MS10 & percussion;
Martin Horntveth: drums;
Lars Horntveth: guitars, Bb & bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, flute,
Roland SH-2, piano & lap steel guitar;
Line Horntveth: tuba, flute, percussion, glockenspiel and vocals;
Even Ormestad: bass & keyboards;
Mathias Eick: trumpet, upright bass, keyboards, piano & vibraphone;
Oystein Moen: synthesizers & piano.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.