Jaga Jazzist
What We Must

Ninja Tune/Smalltown Supersound

f Shining’s a bit too hard-edged for you, put this one on for size. Jaga Jazzist is the pop counterpart to Shining’s metal-tinged jaunts into the underworld, offering up a strange mélange of prog, post-rock, pop, and, of course, jazz. It’s a hard pill to swallow the first time through, but compared to their earlier more schizophrenic work (Animal Chin comes immediately to mind), it’s one that should go down easy once you’ve become attuned to their way of working.

What We Must is the name and it starts off brilliantly with lead single “All I Know Is Tonight,” a full-band workout that takes the group through some easy modal jazz progressions on its way to that cortex of the brain that causes you to poorly whistle tunes that are just complex enough to cause trouble. With video in tow, it’s a song that helped the album debut at #6 on the Norwegian charts upon its release earlier this month.

“Oslo Skyline” is the obvious highpoint of the album, its five-and-a-half minute running time seeming more like eight or nine. The full assortment of instruments (vibes, horns, guitars, voices) all build through the song’s beginning half before an epic chord progression begins that overtakes the proceedings completely, leaving each member to focus on how its strength can be intensified. Most join in, eventually, but it’s a condensed Godspeed-like crescendo that brings them there.

The album takes a strong dip in its latter moments: “Mikado” unsuccessfully attempts to marry a strong melody to a bouncing groove and “I Have A Ghost Now What” never really gathers itself to get out of experimental territory. And while it’d be easy to overlook considering the strength of its predecessors, it does happen to be nearly one-third of the album’s running time. They are right next to each other at the end of the album, though. I’m sure you know what to do.

We can probably spare ourselves the casual summing up here: the band somehow deserves a bit more than that. Because while they seem to be one of the leading lights of Norwegian music, and the premiere pop outfit, Jaga Jazzist will never make it as big in the US or UK as it does in its home country: their definition of pop is too malleable, too broad, and too expansive for the majority of the listening public to ever give them a chance. Fine by me.

Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2005-04-28
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