When Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist fly into London in the middle of June it’ll be the fulfillment of many months, years even, of planning. This is no ordinary Jaga concert (as if any of their concerts is ‘ordinary’!) but a joint venture with the UK’s Britten Sinfonia, an orchestra with an international reputation for ground-breaking programming, brilliant performances and with a huge commitment to contemporary music. Jaga Jazzist and Britten Sinfonia will be playing new arrangements of music well known to Jaga fans as well as music by founding member Lars Horntveth and not just in London, but there’ll be a return match at Rockefeller in Oslo in September when the Ultima Festival hosts Nasjonal Jazzscene’s ‘Conexions’ series which has been curated by Fiona Talkington.
Fiona dropped in on Lars and Jaga’s Oslo HQ to see how the preparations were coming along, to hear how he was “killing his darlings” and how a band which plays 35 different instruments was going to work with a classical orchestra.
You’re obviously working really hard right now making these arrangements of some of your material for two concerts with Britten Sinfonia. Why did you want to do it?
It’s something we talked about doing for several years, perhaps with the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra in Oslo, but there was never a really good opportunity, but this idea really suits the material on Jaga’s latest album [One Armed Bandit] where we’d tried to make the sound more orchestra and to use the musicians in the band in a more orchestra and more diverse ways. Really it’s just a possibility to expand on the music we already have. Many of the songs suit a bigger orchestra and a big thing for me has always been making orchestral arrangements and working with orchestras.
What I don’t want is for the orchestra to sound as if it’s put on top of the music, as if it’s sugar on top, that’s really important, so what I’m working on right now is a challenge to make the orchestra part of the band and vice versa. We’ve chosen seven songs and I think they’re going to work really well! Jaga Jazzist’s music is very packed and maximalistic, the way we do it on records and live, and everyone in the band is playing or having some sort of role the whole time. I guess we play some 35 instruments between us.
So I’m trying to think in new ways about that, taking away some of our roles and putting them into the orchestra and also making some new intros and outros. It’s got to make the orchestra and Jaga sound at their best. It’s going to be massive so there’s a lot of thinking going on right now.
There’s a lot of trust involved. You haven’t worked together before and this is being planned either side of the North Sea, not just musically but the whole communication process. How is it for you?
I know Britten Sinfonia has a great reputation and are great musicians and I’ve no doubt they will be a fantastic orchestra to work with. Making arrangements it’s a very global thing the way it works: you’ve got one day to rehearse and everything written down has to be correct. You can’t have a situation where you’re standing correcting parts, you want all the musicians to understand their roles in the music and rehearse as much as possible. The great thing is that we also have Christian Eggen, a fantastic Norwegian conductor, and he’ll do the concerts in London and Oslo. I’ve worked with him a few times and he really understands how to make classical musicians and a band work together. He’s one of the best conductors I’ve ever met and I think Britten Sinfonia will really enjoy working with him.
I know you’ve put so much work into this. Has the process taken longer than expected?
There’s a lot of notes that just has to be got down on paper and I’m finishing that now and I want quite a good time after that to make all the more creative stuff on paper. I don’t want this to be like just a transcription of Jaga’s music I want this to be a totally different thing and that’s why we’re also making more space for the orchestra with, as I mentioned, intros, outros, middle parts , it takes a lot of time it’s also very much a fun thing to do!
It must be great to revisit some of your music and give it a new lease of life?
Absolutely. I also work with Erik Johannesen, the trombone player in Jaga who’s also an arranger. The real challenge for me is the “kill your darlings” because I wrote this music 2 or 3 years ago just how I wanted it to be, but now I have to put that aside and try to do stuff I wouldn’t have done. As I say it’s a challenge, but it’s nice!
The good thing is we’ve played this music so much and toured a lot. It’s not that I’m bored of listening but I want to do something else with it and this is a good opportunity. And I’ve made a new song which we’re going to play so we’ll need some rehearsals before London and I think it’ll be on our next album. It’ll really suit the sound of the orchestra and work well in this collaboration.
We’re also going to hear your orchestral piece Kaleidoscopic in a UK premiere?
Yes, it’s first time in London! I released it in 2009 on Smalltown Supersound and we’ve played it lots in Norway with the Trondheim Soloists and taken it to Belgium, Spain and Germany . But it’s a big thing for me playing it in London.
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