The debut from Norwegian jazztronica collective Jaga Jazzist gets a wider release...
Peter Marsh 2002
If you need any further proof that Europe (and particularly Norway) is the place where all the interesting stuff is happening, look no further than this record. A Livingroom Hush is the debut from Norwegian collective Jaga Jazzist, now given a wider release by Ninja Tune.
The album's already picked up critical praise (even from the NME!) with one memorable quote describing it as 'Charlie Mingus with Aphex Twin up his arse'. Though this is an interesting (if unsavoury) notion, the album is far from the kind of confrontational experience it suggests. Jaga Jazzist bolt together elements of electronica, formal jazz writing and the wide open spaces of dub and post rock into a lush, listenable stew that's very much their own.
Unlike some of their contemporaries, there aren't any specific references to jazz tradition; you won't find any Alice Coltrane samples here. In fact they're as likely to remind you of Soft Machine or John Barry as much as Herbie Hancock. This pluralist approach is laid out on the opening "Animal Chin" as flute and vibes patterns swirl over lurching breakbeats and churning bass, and the luscious glide of "Going Down", where luminous horns carve out aching melodic lines.
Often the cool beauty of the brass arrangements is reminiscent of Gil Evans or Oliver Nelson, and the short, sweet solos of Lars Horntveth, Jorgen Munkeby and Mathias Eick offer the same mix of introspection and inquisitiveness that you might find on a late 60s Blue Note date.
Nothing stays still for very long; "Airborne" kicks off as spacey jazz ballad peppered with digital crackle n' pop before morphing into a slinky Hancockian bass clarinet riff, joined by intricate countermelodies from strings and horns as the tenor takes over. All in under 6 minutes. Elsewhere you get space age bachelor pad music ("Lithuania"), breakbeat cheesetronica mashup ("Midget") or queasy abstract ambience ("Cinematic").
Jaga Jazzist's grasp of dynamics and structure(whether achieved in real time or through digital cut-up) puts them apart from the usual jazztronica suspects. It's the mix of 21st century texture, intelligent jazz writing and improvisational concision that makes this one of the most enjoyable records of this (or any other) year.