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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 206 - 06/23/13

Jaga Jazzist
Live With Britten Sinfonia
Ninja Tune

Yes, yes, we know what you're thinking. It's a live album, and when are those ever very exciting? But just remember that they really can be, and trust us when we say that this one really, truly is. Like a modern day Live At Leeds (by The Who, ed.'s note), like the benevolent, neon twin of Live Evil (by Miles Davies, also a live album by Black Sabbath, ed.'s second note) (and also a live album by Dead Moon, second ed.'s first note), Jaga Jazzist's wondrous new record is just that; a brilliant album on its own terms. It's a psychedelic Bond soundtrack twisting and turning from the stage, propelling the listener forward on an epic emotional voyage. At times it seems to explode from the speakers in pure, exuberant colour, making you wonder if you've recently developed synesthesia. It moves with unrestrained ease from quiet reflection to cinematic , widescreen thunder, from Sound of Music pastoral joy to pulsing jazz chase sequences... and it makes you wonder why more of the music you hear isn't quite so completely affecting.

These are not my words. They're taken from Jaga Jazzist's home page. I cannot say I fully agree, but Jaga live is really something. One of my greatest live memories of the present century was Jaga live about three years ago in the wake of the previous album One-Armed Bandit. If ever there was a musical firework, this was it! Some disciplined, yet wild organic amalgam. I've seldom felt so exhausted, satisfied and happy after a gig. Jaga means jazz, electronica, rock, trip-hop, pop, whatever you may wish, with jazz as the main ingredient. Some of the band members are top-notch Norwegian jazz musicians. On the new album they've teamed up with the top-notch English classical orchestra, conducted by Christian Eggen, renowned as a top-notch musician, composer and conductor in classical circuits of Norway and beyond. Live includes eight tracks recorded at the Barbican in London and Rockefeller in Oslo last year. Four of them are taken from the aforementioned One-Armed Bandit, three from older albums and one is brand new.

The collaboration with the 30 plus strong men and women of the Britten Sinfonia means a more disciplined and restrained Jaga Jazzist than we're used to, and it brings forward new aspects of the compositions. Quite the opposite of the Jaga horn's collaboration with Motorpsycho more than ten years ago. It doesn't always sound sound better than Jaga on their own, but definitely different - and interesting. A couple of the ... eh, compositions, "One-Armed Bandit" and "Bananfluer Overalt" (Banana Flies All Over The Place), have special written intros played by the orchestra on its own. There are tendencies here that either it's the orchestra playing or the band. When they all contribute together it seems to work best in my opinion. "Kitty Wu" is one great example, bringing forward new textures compared to the original studio recording off The Stix. The relatively quiet "For All You Happy People" and the less so "Oslo Skyline", both off What We Must are others. Only a two minute solo of "Bananfluer Overalt" after the orchestra intro doesn't work well to these ears; too much slack and jazzy improvised trumpet-jerking for my liking... My favorite of the album is "Toccata" where the Sinfonia play a minimalistic, a bit Philip Glass-alike, sequence that evolves, develops and grows to majestic proportions, giving the Jaga soloists some, but not too much, freedom to improvise in between. The new track "Prungen" also works well with a minimalistic-sounding middle part where the interplay between band and orchestra is exemplary. The first and last part, though, seem to belong completely to the band.

Live is only the second Jaga album since 2005. I would have prefered a double live album that also documented what the band is capable of on their own, much like the concert mentioned above. But of course, one new single disc Jaga album is a lot better than none!

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You may also want to check out our Jaga Jazzist articles/reviews: One-Armed Bandit, Starfire.

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