A long-standing live favourite on the Norwegian stages, Jaga Jazzist have been around since 1996. The collective started out as a gathering of friends with a mutual interest in jazz. Before picking up their respective instruments, the band members spent much of their first rehearsals listening to classic jazz releases, thus laying down the foundation for Jaga’s musical explorations. The band member’s backgrounds were diverse with each member bringing with him his own set of musical references - soon influences from drum n’bass, post-rock, avantgarde and glitchty electronica found its way into Jaga’s repertoire.
Jaga quickly built up a reputation as one of the nation’s finest live-bands, creating a loyal following in the wake of the collective’s tours.
The first record from the Jaga camp was the now sold-out JŠvla Jazzist Grete Stitz EP released on their own label in 1996. In 1998 the Magazine EP was released on dBut Records to wide critical acclaim in Norway. By this stage Jaga Jazzist’s status had grown to such proportions that the major labels began to take interest in the eclectic and popular collective. The end result of a tug-of-war between the major Norwegian record companies was Jaga’s signature on Warner’s contract. 2001 saw the release of Jaga Jazzist’s first full-length album A Livingroom Hush. Jaga Jazzist’s collaboration with respected Bergen producer J°rgen TrŠen (who also releases records under his solo alias Sir Duperman) proved to be extremely fruitful: the nation’s dailies rolled the dice leaving Jaga with fives and sixes. Jaga Jazzist’s relentless touring had created a solid platform for their album sales and the album consequently entered the Norwegian top 40 album charts – maintaining a strong position for several weeks.
By this stage the band’s reputation had begun to cross borders and the need to have Jaga’s records released abroad started to arise. Interestingly, the band and its management (Bureau Storm) decided not to go with Warner on the international level. Instead, Jaga Jazzist elected to release A Livingroom Hush on highly respected Norwegian independent label Smalltown Supersound. Via various channels the sounds of the Norwegian ten-piece collective found its way to the office of extremely influential and acclaimed UK label Ninja Tune. A&R representatives form Ninja Tune experienced Jaga’s live-abilities, and soon the Norwegian collective was added to the roster of one of the world’s most prestigious electronica labels.
Last autumn saw A Livingroom Hush released on Ninja Tune internationally – again to wide critical acclaim.
To quote The Wire’s John Cratchley: Drawing players from a wide spectrum of Norwegian New Music - taking in styles as diverse as experimental electronica, rock and jazz - Jaga Jazzist's sound is both nostalgic and committed to change. As a ten piece with wide ranging instrumentation encompassing brass, reeds, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone, guitar and drums, they are capable of tight arrangements that exhibit the cool complexity of Nucleus and the contorted charm of Frank Zappa alongside the subtle mesmerism of Tortoise. Their sound is a bizarre mixture, but it has great momentum with compositions constantly changing tack, adding new tonal colours and altering mood. On "Going Down", for instance, chic funk grooves are overlaid with smooth flute patterns, only to be surreptitiously invaded by ominous bass clarinet figures and electronic disturbance. There's a stimulating sense of surprise at the group’s ability to juxtapose such variation without merely making a style collage. The key cohesive is Martin Horntveth's constant and insinuating percussion presence - using a mixture of kit and drum machine, he never lets the tension drop, even in laidback passages - twinned with the vibraphone, marimba and percussion of Andreas Mj°s. The group, and this duo in particular, are in danger of restoring the reputation of jazz/rock fusion, with a wholly integrated approach to rhythm and a masterful balance of instrumentation. The music is neither taxing nor overtly heavy. Rather, it's a feast of infectious beats and exciting arrangements delicately resolved with nuance to produce a variety of atmospheric pleasures.
Reviews in publications such as The Face, Observer, NME, Muzik, Mojo and Q followed the same path: this is new, refreshing and plain good. One of the most humorous descriptions of the band’s unique style: "Like Charles Mingus with the Aphex Twin up his arse. Delectable" (Sleazenation).
The album’s impact on the jazz community was proved when A Livingroom Hush was awarded Jazz album of 2002 by BBC Radio’s listeners.
In addition to releasing Jaga records, the highly competent players of the vibrant outfit have contributed to a long list of Norwegian releases. The listing of albums which feature Jaga musicians reads as a who’s who on the Norwegian music scene: Motorpsycho, Euroboys, Briskeby, Shining, Spunk, Cloroform, D’Sound, Sternklang, Richochets, Big Bang, Anneli Drecker, King Midas and Bertine Zetlitz to name but a few.
Also watch out for Jaga drummer Martin Horntveth’s solo releases under his own name on Smalltown Supersound.
Autumn 2002 saw the Norwegian release of Jaga Jazzist’s second album: The Stix. Norwegian critics were not less enthusiastic this time: again the fives and sixes were the predominant numbers of the dice. The Stix debuted high on the album charts and stayed there for weeks. A lengthy Norwegian tour followed in the wake of The Stix’ release.
The Stix was released internationally on Ninja Tune in April. Says Ninja Tune on Jaga Jazzist’s latest album: The Stix combines the digital-dancefloor-jiggery-pokery of their debut with the exuberance, warmth and fluidity of their live shows. With their stylish productions, their infectious live shows and their Hoxton/Oslo/Berlin good looks they are rapidly becoming one of the most eligible bands on the block. In the year since their UK debut Jaga Jazzist have made a big impression. Debut single, Going Down, was made 12” of the week in the NME, was tipped by Gilles Peterson, The Blue Room, and Mixing It and went on to be one of Muzik’s Singles Of The Year. It romptly sold out. Jaga Jazzists first live appearance, at the Spitz in E1 was sold-out and they repeated the trick when they headlined the Fertilizer Festival at 93 Feet East. Debut album A Livingroom Hush was released to great acclaim on uber-cool Smalltown Supersound. Now Ninja Tune (in collaboration with Smalltown Supersound) release the eagerly awaited follow-up - The Stix.
To support the album and gain new fans Jaga Jazzist have now embarked on a mammoth forty date European tour that will take the extrovert jazzers to Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, Holland, Denmark, Poland and Luxembourg. The tour covers club gigs as well as performances at such festivals as North Sea Jazz Festival, The Big Chill and Kongsberg Jazz Festival.
Jaga Jazzist is also scheduled to perform at one of modern electronic music’s most central festivals; SonÓr in Barcelona (June 14).
Watch out for the May issue of highly respected music publication The Wire which will run a Jaga Jazzist article. sd
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