Review Summary: What We Must accents the pure beauty of Jaga Jazzist's overall sound, the pinnacle of rock, jazz, post-rock, and electronica blended into one sound that takes 10 multi-instrumentalists to fully make.
Well, it finally happened. I have no idea how to start this review. The pure idea of doing Jaga Jazzist’s What We Must justice seems a near impossible task. I have tons of facts about the band buzzing around in my head. I have all sorts of elaborations about how Jazzist is the single best representation of my musical taste ready for usage. Somehow, none of these seem to work for this review. What We Must is the third full length release from Jaga Jazzist, and it sparks a whole new evolution in their sound, which the band says came from a revelation in a studio session where this new sound just appeared. Before What We Must, the band sounded much more like a jazzy electronica outfit, utilizing the jazzy style of the tenor sax to its full potential. The warm sound of the Rhodes keyboard made a large appearance as well, alluding to Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock among other great keyboardists. What We Must focuses its attention to fully utilizing the 10 members of the band at all times, making a deep, rich sound with all kinds of melodies flowing in and out of the overall texture of the band.
From Norway, Jaga Jazzist leads a Northern Europe music scene called nu-jazz. They continue to be one of the premiere acts of the Ninja Tune label, the record label almost fully responsible for the nu-jazz scene. With What We Must, Jaga Jazzist turned the tables on the whole scene, introducing a whole new rock edge to the sound. The brand new use of the guitar as just a vital instrument as the tenor sax serves as the largest change in Jaga’s new sound. Before, the guitar had its features here and there but mainly just made chordal structure out of the songs while the wind instruments laid down the main melodies. Here, the guitar often plays the main melody or one of the countermelodies playing off the main theme. However, none of the other instruments took a step down to allow the guitar to stand out more. The guitar simply adds more and makes an extremely expansive sound. The band realized that the keyboard has the ability to do more than set atmospheric tone and they use that to replace the chordal structure the guitar used to set.
All I Know Is Tonight
, the album’s awe-inspiring opener, shows off the new sound of the band perfectly. A nearly 8 minute epic, the song revolves around a few central themes, including a climatic chorus of contrast. The chorus features a dancing, fairy-like keyboard line and some incredibly catchy trumpet melodies that infect the listener’s mind. Jaga Jazzist manages to create as catchy music as the next pop artist without the use of any lyrical vocals. The instrumental melodies are some of the best in music today. The guitar has its own layering theme which builds into the chorus as well as a variation, which the saxophone leads. The song sprawls from theme to theme, showing off every instrument in the band. However, as every member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist, the lineup of the band changes considerably throughout the album. For All You Happy People
is a much sparser affair, being a clarinet solo for most of the song. The guitar and keyboards lay out a chord pattern for the clarinet before the song enters a second section which grows quickly into a short appearance of the band’s full sound. For All You Happy People
shows that Jaga Jazzist can either take their time in reaching their climax or get the effect across as quickly as possible.
The best example of Jaga taking their time comes in Swedenborgske Rom
. Just barely the longest song Jaga ever recorded, it contains three main sections. The first is quiet, dark, and brooding. It uses the tuba as the bass instrument. It is subtle and beautiful, but only an introduction for one of the best surprises and sections on the album. A voice enters, followed by another, and then a full angelic chorus. For a short period of time, the band members put down their instruments and use their voices to create extreme effect. The chorus goes through suspension after suspension, creating some of the greatest vocal harmonies in modern music. As if that couldn’t be topped, the majority of the song is an extremely long build to a huge climax, all centered around a low and simple piano melody. As guitars, keyboards, and other wind instruments create their own sounds, the volume grows slowly. Finally, a trumpet screams out the piano melody with the drums bringing the volume to a new level with excellent filling. Swedenborgske Rom
is unprecedented in its terms of pure brazen sound mixed with beautiful subtlety.
This entire album is a breath of fresh air, an album with great variety and contrast throughout. The sound constantly changes as the band utilizes different instruments, including an extreme use of mallet percussion in I Have a Ghost, Now What?
and Oslo Skyline
. I Have a Ghost...
sounds as though it envisions a late night drive through the streets of Tokyo. Although a bit quirky and not the best choice for an album closer, I Have A Ghost...
is still a fantastic song with great replay value. Oslo Skyline
is one of the best on the album, including a climax of crunchy, distorted guitar chords. A modern classic with a brand new sound, What We Must leaves many doors wide open for Jaga Jazzist to expand further, although I don’t envision them creating a more consistent album than What We Must. It fits the sounds of a small, secluded jazz club as well as a large arena fit for the likes of U2. It screams, it whispers, and it infects the listener’s brain without the use of one word.
All I Know is Tonight