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Jaga Jazzist One-Armed Bandit Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Few records of 2010 will contain songs quite so mind-bogglingly broad.

Chris Parkin 2010

According to Jaga Jazzist mainman Lars Horntveth, the ten members of his Wu-Tang-like jazz clan have left their mark on some 300 different records, producing, arranging and playing on albums by Adjágas, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and assorted Scandinavian acts. It’s further proof, if any were needed, that these are musicians whose ambidextrous talent lets them change direction at the drop of a hat, something they’ve done once again on their latest thriller, One-Armed Bandit.

Led by Lars, Martin and Line Horntveth, this Norwegian ensemble are what all modern forward-thinking bands should aspire to – a group who don’t so much cut-and-shut man and machine (a la most indie-dance bands) as they do reconcile the two as a seamless, super-evolved, silver-plated being. Jaga Jazzist have been cutting through this fjord for 15 years now, moving from avant-jazz and lush post-club music to dazzling, horn-blasted future rock, and they show no signs of standing still.

Those worlds they’ve already visited – free-jazz, drum’n’bass, rock, electro – all pop up on One-Armed Bandit, but so do some mightily unexpected ones. Paying as much mind to jazz intellects as they do our collective booty, Jaga Jazzist have kicked out the jams on this fifth album, hitting a groovily propulsive, freaky, fun-loving patch of form by flying the “mothership,” as Lars once called the band, to the farthest reaches of electronic jazz-rock.

Tweaked with a heavy dose of prog, especially the becloaked OTT style of Zappa and Yes, this is properly cosmic stuff, bringing to the table FX-laden jams, afrobeat, Wagner-inspired bombast, baroque-inflected deep-funk and the knowing, horn-y sound of 1960s spy films, all of this intermingled with Jaga’s terrific fusion of breaks, synths, killer horn lines and taut, muscular rhythms. Few records in 2010 will contain songs quite so mind-bogglingly broad, playful, beguilingly pretty and intense as these slowly unfurling ensemble pieces.

Among the gems are the mathematical, angular post-rock of Prognissekongen and Music! Dance! Drama!, the latter doing what it says on the tin as it shifts between celestial electronics, sweeping horns and old-school car chase music rendered for an apocalyptic future. Tocatta is a fantastical, pulsing piece with glassy, repetitive melodies that acknowledges Steve Reich, while album closer Touch of Evil gallops along madly like a kind of ornate version of rave with touches of metal and Middle Eastern music. It’s difficult to imagine where on Earth they could go after this.

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