I knew it had been awhile, but until I went back and looked, I didn’t realize it had been almost five full years since Jaga Jazzist released their last full length album, What We Must. In the intervening years, the only peep that has been heard out of the band is last years 37-minute epic Kaleidoscope from band ringleader Lars Horntveth.
If there’s one thing that I learned in the past five years, it’s that the aforementioned album from the group has held up just as well as I originally gave it credit for, and possibly better. The flowing epics like “All I Know Is Tonight” and “Swedenborgske Rom” still sound huge and ambitious and pay off in spades, and the album as a whole doesn’t sound nearly as dated as some of the same things that came out during the same time.
After spending quite a bit time now with One-Armed Bandit, I have little doubt that it will do the same. Again, there are a vast amount of ideas and influences packed into the longer (but certainly not unwieldy) tracks, and the group manages to swirl together rock, jazz, fusion, prog, orchestral pop, and glints of lots of other styles into pieces that are ultimately catchy and re playable.
The album-titled “One Armed Bandit” kicks off the album in earnest and mingles harpsichord, synth washes, horns, and alternately baroque and kraut-inspired sections for seven minutes of widescreen sound that conjures up all kinds of imagery. By the end, lap steel is mingling with juicy bass, flutes, guitar, and electronics in a way that sounds like 5 different soundtracks all piled on top of one another and still coming out the better for it.
I could dive in just about anywhere on the album and find something that really tickles my ears, but two tracks that really show the albums diversity (and really, really keep me coming back) are “Toccata” and “Touch Of Evil.” The former clocks in at just over 9 minutes and opens with overlapping phrases of organ and piano that sound influenced by minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. As the track builds, woodwinds, drums, electronics and loads of horns all enter the mix and create some shiver-inducing phase effects and small crescendos that stand out without being overbearing and obvious.
“Toccata” – Jaga Jazzist
“Touch Of Evil” closes out the release and goes in a completely different direction, rumbling with some electronic programming and synths before crashing down into pools of orchestration and finally some juicy riffs. As it builds to a final conclusion, the last couple minutes of the song (and album) are some of the most giddy and joy-inducing that I’ve heard this year.
“Touch Of Evil” – Jaga Jazzist
And so, while I’ve already gone back to this release many times since first getting it, based on past experience with the group it will hold up just as well over the next couple years. There aren’t too many bands creating music with such expansive ideas, and it’s a joy to Jaga Jazzist do it, even if it takes them so long to release music.