20 years on from their beginnings the (literally) huge Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist have released Starfire. With eight members, Jaga are possibly more of a 21st Century orchestra than rock ‘band’, enabling a total sound palette that can achieve virtually anything they could wish for musically. Having no limitations could possibly be the biggest hurdle to creating great music, but the main writer, Lars Horntveth, seems pretty comfortable with the difficulties.
The title track opens with hypnotic drums pounding out the rhythm for a classic style theme that would sit perfectly over the opening credits of a ’70s crime thriller. Driving its way forward, it builds symphonically until jagged, crackling electronic jerks and staccato breaks kill any comfortable groove you might have been lulled into. The craggy electronics bring to mind the hard-edged fast playing of Patrick Moraz. As the track progresses the zaggy themes become electronically orchestral, reverting back to a gutsy hard rock slow groove.
After a very pretty sequencer section – which I’m sure I’ve heard on an old Tomb Raider soundtrack – Big City Music kicks you in the head with crashing electronics and tight 3/4 drum licks. Thematically it opens out into a rich synthesized soundscape, sudden open spaces joined by gently strumming acoustic guitar chords with what could easily be a treated Stylophone taking the lead. As the track drops back into a fine groove it’s hard not to be impressed with the scope of this music; at one moment intimate and seconds later wildly epic with what could easily be a techno version of a colliery brass band.
Shinkansen takes us, as you might expect, to Asian territory and away from overt synthesizers for the first time. A lilting opening with flutes leads to a clarinet, once again accompanied by the hypnotic groove. However, it’s not too long before we’re back in space jazz territory, static crackling keys pounding an uncompromising rhythm to join the horned theme.
With Oban the Jaga world gets a little darker with brooding burbles and rat-a-tat drums emerging into a pool of beautiful jazz styled bass clarinet, then clatters back to the bass synth-led beat with piano themes and anthemic strings.
The short final track, Prungen, has a cinematic opening, emotive but with not so much drive, like a low flying helicopter over an expansive landscape. As with the rest of this album, you’re not left for long before sonic challenges are bombarding your senses and relocating you entirely elsewhere. Those grinding synths are back with their discordant angry angles – these people don’t want you have an easy ride! – but the musical themes return to ease the journey just as the song suddenly dies out, leaving you breathless and wanting more.
The leading sound of this recording is obviously electronic, however beneath the surface there is plenty of room for the plethora of musicality Jaga Jazzist have available to them. The recording and production is also superb, allowing air for the individual instruments to breathe in even the most dense of passages. Starfire is an aural journey of an album. I highly recommend it.
01. Starfire (8:47)
02. Big City Music (14:07)
03. Shinkansen (7:42)
04. Oban (12:41)
05. Prungen (6:35)
Lars Horntveth – Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, Flute,
Soprano Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Guitar,
Piano, Keyboards, Programming,
Lap Steel Guitar
Line Horntveth – Tuba, Flute, Percussion, Vocals
Martin Horntveth – Percussion, Drums,
Andreas Mjøs – Guitar, Percussion,
Glockenspiel, Marimba, Vibraphone
Even Ormestad – Bass, Percussion,
Erik Johannessen – Trombone, Marxophone, Percussion
Øystein Moen – Keyboards, Percussion
Marcus Forsgren – Guitar, Effects
Record Label: Ninja Tune
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 1st June 2015