Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Intersection: Jaga Jazzist

The Intersection is a new feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that blend jazz with electronica (a tradition pioneered by none other than Miles Davis on such classic recordings as On The Corner).

This week's focus is Jaga Jazzist.

Norwegian nu jazz fusionists, Jaga Jazzist, scored an underground hit in Scandenavia with their full-length debut, A Livingroom Hush (2001). This 10-piece band is as unique sounding as anything in jazz or electronica today. By combining trumpets, bass clarinets, trombone, guitar, bass, tuba, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone and drum 'n' bass-style programming, Jaga Jazzist (or simply Jaga) create a dense, complicated, melodic balance of man and machine. Stand-out tracks include the single "Animal Chin," the spacious "Cinematic," the hypnotic "Airborne," the uplifting "Lithuania," and the infectious "Made for Radio."

Jaga's follow up, The Stix (2003), continues along the same lines, but ratchets up the electronic element, which adds interest to most tracks ("Kitty Wu," "Toxic Dart," "Day") while overwhelming others ("The Stix," "Doppleganger").

The e.p. release that followed, entitled Magazine (2004), is actually a reissue of the band's early work, and it's more like A Livingroom Hush than The Stix. The quality of the material is excellent and the musicianship exemplary. Stand-out tracks include the invigorating "Jaga ist Zu Hause" and the gorgeous "Plym".

When Jaga returned with new material on What We Must (2005) they sounded a bit more prog than before with greater emphasis on keyboards and guitars. Emotionally resonant melodies meet virtuouso ensemble performances on tracks such as "All I Know is Tonight," "Stardust Hotel" and "Oslo Skyline." While the material and performances are impressive, some of the charm of the earlier work is lost. Still, all of these releases are highly recommended.

Jaga Jazzist is the answer for anyone who thinks the mix of electronica and jazz is limited to the downtempo grooves that feature a jazzy breakbeat (like Mr. Scruff's catchy "Get a Move On" or St. Germain's "Rose Rouge," which was used in a luxury car commercial). Jaga Jazzist is way beyond jazz posing -- they've got serious chops, melodic gifts and an eagerness to push the electronic jazz genre to new heights. They actually create music worthy of the label, but in their case, the label hardly does them justice.

Next week: Mocean Worker

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