Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit

Ash Akhtar 03/02/2010

Rating: 4/5

Six albums in and Jaga Jazzist's latest album, 'One-Armed Bandit', arrives to take listeners on a one hour trip to the cosmos and back. Leaning their acid-funk fusion heavily into the winds of progressive rock has pushed the nine-piece into new sonic territory. A gamble? Perhaps. It doesn't simply seem to be a matter of happenstance that the group have teamed up with Tortoise's John McEntire (who did a great job of mixing the myriad elements that comprise the album): in fact it's probably an indication that the compass is pointing in the right direction.

The nine instrumental pieces created by the Norwegian nonet contain valuable, implied musical references to influences within well defined structures. Unlike Norwegian counterparts, Motorpsycho, Jaga's prog experiments tend to deal in brevity and a concision of almost scientific proportions. Sporting a longer list of instruments than Anton Newcombe could shake a tambourine at, Jaga's strength lies with their ability to manipulate aural texture to almost imperceptible levels. A case in point is 'Toccata' which, normally a style of piano reserved for virtuosos, seems to be here to pay heavy homage to Steve Reich's classic 'Music For 18 Musicians'. Wonderfully distinct and light, the track is filled with thick vibrato horn passages that capture the spirit of that iconic record.

And those cosmic vibes? Well, the rolling 3/4 time signature of title track 'One-Armed Bandit' is driven by a '70s style harpsichord riff, layered with dirt bass, broken down by a pedal steel guitar and marimbas and lifted by a flute lick all before galloping into a space age style arpeggio around the three minute mark before returning to its original riff and chaotically repeating its coda. Thematically, with the toccata style already evident at this early stage of the record, 'Toccata' could easily be an extension to this opening piece. It can't be long before the band develop a full one hour piece that falls outside the confines of the structures they so consistently aim to push.

Whatever they decide, we should pray it's not another five years before the band record their next album. Tapping into a demotic that goes well beyond the cultural, Jaga Jazzist have unleashed a rather sublime and toxic jazz-prog record into the atmosphere. Breathe deep.