Review: Jaga Jazzist

Jaga Jazzist and The Hidden Orchestra
(Scala, 30th March 2011; review and drawing* by Geoff Winston)

This was a storming night at the sold-out Scala. I first caught the tail end of a confident opening set by The Hidden Orchestra – two drummers, bass and violin – which flowed seductively with a crisp, jazzy-rock swing, heavier than Andreas Vollenweider, more pared-down than fellow Scots, The Blue Nile.

Main act, Jaga Jazzist, the 9-piece from Oslo were supercharged from the off, loved performing back in London after 4 years, and played with absolute conviction and impressively well organised arrangements. Yet, despite the inclusion of ‘Jazz’ in their name, they exhibit inherent contradictions which put them very much on the verges of a fit with jazz interests.

They teeter dangerously on a precipice, and, every so often they lose their footing to tumble down in to the dark abyss of prog rock – Genesis’ ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and further afield with crashing, stadium rock chord sequences and vibrato guitar.

But it is a contradiction – they are talented multi-instrumentalists; driven by the power drumming of Martin Horntveth, co- founder and co-composer with brother Lars – on tenor and soprano saxes and bass clarinet – and, typifying their versatility, sister Line Horntveth on tuba, occasional flute and glockenspiel.

They were tremendously well-drilled – hovering between an orchestrated wall of sound and prog-rock thrash – but not nearly as extreme as Magma – then eased off into more exploratory areas where glints of jazz shone through in extended solos – Mathias Eick‘s trumpet solo had a Jon Hassall feel, and there was a nice interplay from a quartet of trombone, trumpet, and tuba plus bass clarinet. They built up the sound from every inch of the stage and the impact and commitment was undeniable. There were hints of minimalism, and Andreas Mjøs’ busy vibraphone added an acoustic layer. But we did have the dry ice, the green laser beams, a few minutes of pinpoint lighting which made the black space of the confined Scala feel like a coalmine, and the clap-along to the rock riff finale, which gave them away as rock and roll wanabees.

Another contradiction worth mentioning – their most recent album, ‘One Armed Bandit’, (2010, Ninja Tune, ZENCD152) inspired by slot machines, which was showcased later in the two-hour set, opens, curiously, with a laptop recording they made at a gig by The Thing – who inhabit a very different area of the musical spectrum!

As Martin Horntverth remarked in a Norwegian radio interview, their extensive touring schedule had become ‘more like friends hanging out’, and I left the venue, on one hand bemused by the retro rock-weighted eclecticism of the material, and on the other, impressed by the sheer energy and dedication of Jaga Jazzist’s high volume performance. Jaga

Jazzist personnel:
Mathias Eick: trumpet, upright bass, keyboards, vibraphone
Marcus Forsgren: guitars, effects
Even Ormestad: bass, keyboards
Andreas Mjøs: vibraphone, guitars, drums, electronics
Line Horntveth: tuba, flute, keyboards
Martin Horntveth: drums,
Lars Horntveth: tenor and soprano sax, bass-clarinet, guitars, keyboards
Øystein Moen: keyboards
Erik Johannessen: trombone, percussion


(*) Drawing Copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011. All Rights Reserved

Categories: miscellaneous

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