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Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit

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Artist: Jaga Jazzist

Album: One-Armed Bandit

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: May. 19, 2010

Although Jaga Jazzist are now 15 years old, it has been five years since they released their last album, What We Must. At that time, they flirted with dropping the Jazzist surname and just calling themselves Jaga, leading to comments that they were more inclined to be rockist than jazzist... whatever that means. For One-Armed Bandit, they have reverted to their original name – but those rockist charges have lingered long enough to be worth going to trial. Had the band’s debut album A Livingroom Hush not been lauded as one of the top jazz albums of 2001, this might not be an issue and we could have accepted JJ as a rock band all along.

As it is, this album makes compelling evidence; while the band’s instrumentation leads to initial expectations that it will play jazz, their music has far greater affinities with all sorts of hyphen-rock – prog-rock, pomp-rock and symphonic-rock… but not jazz-rock. In the rockist/jazzist debate, JJ’s rhythm section strongly tips the scales towards rock, with drummer Martin Horntveth – one of the three siblings who are the band’s driving force – and bassist Mathias Eick frequently opting for a solid backbeat that is very un-jazz.

With few obvious signs of improvisation, the music is all composed by Lars Horntveth, and tightly arranged, featuring frequent counter melodies and changes of tempo. If forced to guess who the Horntveth siblings listened to in their formative years, on this evidence I would opt for Hot Rats-era Zappa or early King Crimson as first choice, rather than ‘Trane, Miles or Mingus.

The presence here of Tortoise’s main man John McEntire – he mixed the album – makes comparison inevitable. JJ are eclectic but not in the way Tortoise are, being more bombastic; overall, the two bands sound like cousins rather than brothers, with their common stylistic ancestor being Zappa. In addition, as if to emphasise JJ’s eclecticism, Lars Horntveth credits Fela Kuti and Wagner as inspirations for the album. Like any writer, he is not averse to some creative borrowing and, in amongst traces of many influences, it is possible to hear why he credits them, notably on “Toccata” and “Prognissekongen” (the latter title apparently translates as “king of the prog gnomes”!)

Each of the nine-piece JJ is a multi-instrumentalist; together they produce a full punchy sound that shifts around as band members deploy different instruments. Much of the time, keyboards dominate that sound but the band has the capability to generate a blast from its reeds plus brass players. Lars Horntveth writes melodies that linger in the memory and arrangements that make good use of the vast instrumentation at his disposal. JJ continue to build on the promise of their early albums with an eclectic sound which appeals to devotees of many different musics including jazz, rock and beyond.

By John Eyles

Other Reviews of Jaga Jazzist

The Stix

What We Must

Read More

View all articles by John Eyles

Find out more about Ninja Tune

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