Of all the bands to emerge from the ongoing explosion of Scandinavian jazz-or-thereabouts music, I think that Jaga Jazzist would probably have to be my favourite. They have been making music together now for over 15 years and though the personnel changes regularly, the band seems to have settled around a core made up of members of the Horntveth family, with Lars playing a plethora of instruments and writing much of the band’s material, Martin supplying explosive drumming and acting as the band’s on-stage cheerleader and sister Line who plays little (flute) and large(tuba) and sings as well. Other long-term Jagaists include trumpeter (and bassist) Mathias Eick who is now carving out a career for himself in straight jazz with Manu Katche and also his own quartet.
When I first heard JJ about 8 years ago, I described their music as sounding like the product of a bunch of Norwegian kids who had been locked in a house in the woods for a few years with a load of instruments and copies of all the pre-1970 Mothers of Invention albums. Glib, probably, but with an element of truth – Zappa perhaps was an early influence but they have large ears and with 10 members offering input, they are clearly drawing from a wide variety of sources ranging from straight jazz to the avant-garde and everything inbetween.
Live in Toulouse 2005 (Picture courtesy of Pierre Ricci)
On stage, JJ resemble nothing more or less than a medium-sized orchestra who have just been forced to relocate to premises that are far too small for them. The stage is positively cluttered with banks of keyboards, steel guitars, wind instruments on racks and vibraphones. Their lighting engineer favours atmospheric sweeps of green, blue and violet interspersed with flashes of red and silver and from this oceanic murk, one of the band will suddenly emerge brandishing a bass clarinet or a flute or 12-string guitar to lead the ensemble into the next passage. They’re a great band on stage and are scheduled to play the O2 Academy in Islington on 3rd March , so all you groovy metropolitan types need to get down to see them – you are unlikely to be disappointed. We benighted provincials will have to hope that they put in some more UK dates later in the year.
Their new album ‘One-Armed Bandit’ is their first for 4 years and builds on the slightly ‘proggy’ direction of their wonderful 2005 album ‘What we must’. However, on the first few hearings it lacks a killer track like ‘All I know is tonight’ from the previous album. Even so, there are tracks like Prognissekongen and Toccata which are real growers as they say…