The brilliance of Jaga Jazzist’s first album, “A Living Room Hush”, lay in its inspired marriage of new wave “electronica” and traditional jazz chord sequences. The end result – a combination of odd, often tense back-beats, familiarly languid jazz phrasing and distinctive melodies – was certainly daring but, more importantly totally controlled, allowing the best of this ingenious fusion to shine through. Arguably one of the most innovative “jazz” albums of the last 10 years and… a very difficult act to follow. Faced with this task, their second album sees them grappling with the same problems that beset a previous generation of pioneering “jazz fusion” artists, in particular The Mahavishnu Orchestra – how to extend further into difficult and potentially disparate musical styles without losing the plot. Their solution, to concentrate more on fast “industrial techno” & “jungle” rhythms and harsher instrumentation at the expense of the laid-back, “pure jazz” melodies that underpinned “A Living Room Hush”, is equally brave and, in the end, highly effective, but the outcome is much more “frantic” and challenging. So, for those seeking a comfortable continuation to their previous release, “The Stix” will be a disappointment; but for those interested in seeing how far the fusions they’re clearly dedicated to exploring can be pushed, it’s a triumph – dense, multi layered electronica combined with equally complex “avant garde” jazz in a thrilling roller coaster ride of musical exploration that runs, at times, dangerously close to the edge of how far it can be taken without degenerating into “the brilliantly unlistenable”. Sun Ra and John McLaughlin would be proud.
Having been completely gobsmacked by their first full length lp, I couldn't wait for jaga jazzist to return with 'the stix', so I had it sent to me from Norway where it's been out for about a year and a half. Those who loved 'A livingroom hush' as much as myself will not be dissappointed with this latest effort, although musically it has moved on from the more slow burning, traditionally arranged jazz numbers such as 'airborne' and 'made for radio'. Having said that, it is still an innovative recording, and maintains the freshness of the original album, but without retracing the steps they've already made, which is really the only way this record could have failed. The stix has a much more electronic sound than it's predecessor. Openeing with 'Kitty wu' (some may have found this tune on 'the wire's free compilation; 'Fjord Focus'last year), a beautifully obtuse mix of looped vibraphone, electronic bleeps and the trademark dry bass clarinet, you could be forgiven for expecting a similar feel to 'a livingroom hush'. But that soon changes with track two; 'Day', which tears straight into an electronic two-step rythmn and ambient guitar sounds, before the trumpet introduces the melody, and the time signature changes for track three; 'Another Day'. The fact that Martin Horntveth has use more programmed drums on this album is one of its more striking differences from the first, giving it a more dance oriented feel, but this is an easy assumption to make, and with repeated listenings you begin to realise that all the best jazzist ingredients are there; haunting melodies, beautiful arrangements, and blistering energy. Other highlights include 'I could have killed him in the sauna', which opens with a sparse programmed rythmn and electric piano, sounding almost like a nintendo soundtrack. But then the violins gently creep in, giving a spooky feature film feel. Finally the tune departs into rythmic stabs, with glorious horns, violins and vibraphone creating a spacious mountain landscape for the mind. I'm obviously a big fan of jaga jazzist, so how much of this review you want to take with a pinch of salt is up to you, but I simply cannot recommend them highly enough, and neither can those who went to their critically acclaimed, sold-out London shows recently. Buy it. Now.
An attempt to convey this music in words is difficult but here goes: Strange, intoxicating whirlpool of unnerving electronica welded to the gentle illusion of acoustica (Is that vibraphone real?)! Occasionally this uncanny swaying, shifting musical creature emerges into a January morning of crisp melodic writing with a fried breakfast of rhythmic toast and lush harmonic marmalade. Mostly, however, it slips away into the brightness of a moonlit winter night full of glistening and shimmering sounds and reflections. Inspiring stuff!! If that didn't make sense to you then go and listen yourself.