Jaga What We Must Review

Album. Released 2005.  

BBC Review

The Norwegian jazztronica specialists take it further out...

Chris Jones 2005

Like some hydra-headed Scandinavian juggernaut, Jaga have now completed a ten-year mission to seek out new musical life and new musical civilizations. Indeed, What We Must opens with a sample of the classic Star Trek transporter noise, so we're in no doubt that space is now the place for these plucky astronauts. However the space they've been exploring is the Norwegian countryside - in a remote forest hideout, searching for something closer to their live sound - and a radical re-think has resulted in their greatest leap for mankind yet.

In a typical perverse fashion these young Nordics started with Gil Evans' sophistication and then began adding the elements of music that young people were supposed to be listening to (even if they were working on word of mouth rather than actual experience)! Hence, by Livingroom Hush we got the wonderful Drum 'n' Jazz concoctions that blithely ignored convention and translated into such a visceral live experience. Fears that dropping the 'Jazzist' may indicate a lessening of the rigour of their earlier horn groupings and lead to more rockist statements prove to be both true and false. Yes, the big-band-in-a-spin-dryer intricacies have faded somewhat but in their place come sweeping arrangements that take in post-rock dynamics, dazzling guitar figures and the vaulting ambition of the best prog.

Take track two: ''Stardust Hotel''. From a deceptively naïve little guitar figure we're suddenly catapulted into the stratosphere by some soaring Steve Howe-like octave jumping (Howe seems to be a common touchstone throughout) and Martin Horntveth's typically octopoid drums. This is music that dares to contrast introspection with bombast but without the gloomy self-knowingness of, say, Tortoise.

A lot of this is obviously down to the fact that these guys are players of the first water. Like all truly great albums repeated listens endlessly repay the listener with more detail. About halfway through you realise that the brass and woodwinds are still as integral to their sound (especially in providing those wonderful yearning melody lines) but are just a little more retiring. ''Swedensborgske Rom'' takes a very Hatfield and The North-like meditation and then crosses it with vocal samples straight out of an early Prefab Sprout/Thomas Dolby production while steel guitar hovers, cosmically.

Of course all of this is meaningless when you come to realise that nothing else really sounds like this band any more. How many combine styles so effortlessly and still leave you humming melodies that are as warmly remembered as long-lost friends? Beam yourself up, you won't regret it...

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