Most people, when they think of jazz, they think of secluded and dark clubs with maybe a 5 piece band playing old swing standards as background music to cultured conversations. However, Jaga Jazzist sees things differently. Jaga takes jazz to a whole different level by adding elements of cold electronica, buildups of post-rock, and the abstract time signatures of prog rock. The 9 piece band from Norwegian throws guitars, vibraphones, and many more instruments into the mix. As nearly every member of Jaga is a multi-instrumentalist, one can be sure that he/she will never hear the same exact combination of instruments in any song.
The Stix represents a vibrant and lively view of Jaga Jazzist. Nearly every song pounds forward at breathtaking speeds and doesn't let go. The drive from the electronic drums that are heavily used on this album pushes the album along. As the bass and the drums lay down the pulsating rhythmic feel of much of the album, horn lines blaze overtop creating beautiful melodies while the guitars and vibraphone provide countermelodic structure. The sound whirls around ones ears, and every time something new blasts through the speakers.
The first 3 tracks represent the exhilarating pulse of this album perfectly. Kitty Wu starts the album with blaring vibraphone, clarinet, and a snare drum line that provides all the energy the song will ever need. The two song combination of Day and Another Day bind together to create a futuristic take on the world of jazz. Acoustic guitars blend with techno drums and more fiery vibraphone to build melody upon melody. However, about halfway through Another Day, the guitar goes electric and bursts out an Eastern sounding rock lick, and somehow, even with all these different styles clashing, it works.
However, if there was ever a song meant to accompany a cold, brisk January day, Aerial Bright Dark Round is that song. The cold, barren landscape is put on the table right away with the electronic melodies starting the song off. Tenor sax accompanies in the background, sounding like a broadcast from an old 8 track. Suddenly, the tenor joins the hi-fi recording of the rest of the song and takes the forefront. While in the song title, the two opposites bright and dark next to each other don’t make much sense, the dark, round sound of the tenor and the bright texture of the electronic voices high above melt together perfectly. The song closes with the excruciatingly high yet angelic voices rising higher and higher, an aerial in the sky.
After Aerial Bright Dark Round, the rest of the album picks up with the same intensity as the previous tracks. Toxic Dart is the closest to techno-pop as the album gets, but it's put through the Jaga Jazzist filter and turned into a great song. The fuzzy bass and techno drums remind me of a typical song from Gran Turismo. However, I don't think any other techno-pop songs have a tenor sax carrying the melody. The song continues for over 5 minutes with this formula, but near the end, very distorted, static-like sounds come across to break up the melody. Again, the whole song reminds me of driving around in Gran Turismo or other associated Japanese influenced games.
The best song on the album, I Could Have Killed Him in the Sauna, starts off with a dark keyboard line with a bassline underneath it. An electronic drum kit provides the percussion, once again, for this song. Just before 2 minutes into the song, the main theme presents itself. It's a rhythmic syncopated line of drums, guitar, and bass. It continues for nearly the rest of the song while horns glide over top of the rhythm. With half a minute left, the rhythm drops out for a low brass statement with a gliding tenor sax line. The song ends abruptly, very unlike Jaga, as they like to end on a huge chord or a held note of some kind. However, the rhythmic feel in I Could Have Killed… is unrivaled by any song on this CD.
The Stix, although not Jaga's best, is a great album showcasing the pure energy that Jaga Jazzist can create with their unique blend of styles. However, this gets tiring and one will find themselves wanting another Aerial Bright Dark Round to break up the album.
Aerial Bright Dark Round
I Could Have Killed Him in the Sauna