Release Date: Feb 23, 2010
Record label: Ninja Tune
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Jazz
Although I realize the rather premature nature of this statement, it could very well be that with One Armed Bandit, Norway's Jaga Jazzist have produced the album of the year. While trying to restrain the unavoidable sense of hyperbole, its hard to conceive that any other releases will contain anywhere near the same level of imaginative, dynamic and joyously enjoyable sounds. Listening to this record is like knocking back a potent distillation of the unleashed potential of music; by turns inspiring and bewildering, these snake-like compositions align exotic, hypnotic meters of the like usually found in the darker recesses of Jazz's underbelly with moments of such contrasting darkness and light as to be initially overwhelming.
It’s unlikely to be coincidence that Jaga Jazzist’s third album ends with the noise of helicopters. This is, after all, a record that mainman Lars Horntveth has claimed was inspired by Wagner, a composer who – in many people’s minds – will forever be associated with the sight of scores of choppers bombing a Vietnamese village to the sound of ‘The Ride Of The Valkyries’ in Apocalypse Now. In the film, Robert Duvall’s character Colonel Kilgore’s rationale for playing Wagner is that "it scares the shit out of the slopes".
The first thought I had after firing up Jaga Jazzist’s new album One-Armed Bandit was, “Oh, this is supposed to be a masterpiece. ” Somehow, the scent of aspiring mastery I detected didn’t reek of ego. This baffled me.
Jaga Jazzist’s least jazz-rooted, most prog album to date, One-Armed Bandit is not associable with Tortoise and 2000s-era Stereolab merely for the assistance of John McEntire, who mixed it and is credited with analog synth processing. Echoing, at various points, both bands at their most rocking, Baroque, and searching, One-Armed Bandit dazzles early on. Throughout the 13 minutes that make up the title track and the following “Bananfleur Overalt,” the listener is pulled through a suspenseful succession of passages, like a score to a Mediterranean tropical cyclone, that work in tight-riffing bass clarinet, zipping vibraphone, buzzing guitar, sighing pedal steel, dancing harpsichord, and even some distant skronk-sax over galloping and tapping rhythms that switch time signatures with an oddly elegant twitchiness.
Jaga Jazzist, a nine-piece Norwegian ensemble, is among the leadings lights of the new Scandinavian jazz, but their sound resonates strongly with North American-style post-rock, too. Woodwinds, brass, and a Fender Rhodes often carry Jaga's melodies, but electric guitars hold the line just as often. Their percussion, while intricate, is always brawny and propulsive.
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.