sun 16/06/2019

Jaga Jazzist, Union Chapel | reviews, news & interviews

Jaga Jazzist, Union Chapel

Jaga Jazzist, Union Chapel

Hindered by lacklustre sound, the Norwegian experimentalists are a way off their best

Jaga Jazzist, "genre-crossing collective of Norwegian multi-instrumentalists"

Expectations can be dangerous when it comes to live music, but sometimes managing them is easier said than done. Go and see a band like Jaga Jazzist, a genre-crossing collective of Norwegian multi-instrumentalists who skyrocketed to fame in 2002 when the BBC named A Livingroom Hush jazz album of the year, and you expect it to be big. Especially when it’s the group’s 20th anniversary tour and you arrive at Union Chapel to find the queue stretching around the block.

As we filed in, I was in rock gig mode, prepared to leave with mild tinnitus, a few new bruises and a stupid grin plastered across my face, but it wasn’t like that at all. Not only were we sat down throughout, in the battered wooden pews beneath the chapel’s cavernous ceiling, it was clear from the support act (30 minutes of polished, rhythmically inventive electronica from Viennese synth maestro Dorian Concept and his trio) that sound levels were going to be on the quiet side of sensible.

As the band found their groove and I prepared myself for a subtler sort of gig, things began to look up

On top of all that, Jaga got off to a slow start, arriving on stage in a haze of blue light and opening with a rendition of "Toccata" from 2010 album One-Armed Bandit. Characterised by endlessly swirling synth and directionless vibraphone, it was underwhelming at best and at worst mildly irritating. But as the band found their groove and I prepared myself for a subtler sort of gig, things began to look up.

"Bananfluer Overalt" brought intriguing shifts in colour and intensity along with an introspective clarinet and flute melody that called to mind Gil Evans’ "Sketches of Spain", before making way for the crackly, broken piano sounds of "Reminders". One of the highlights of the set, it featured a harmonically sophisticated soprano solo from bandleader Lars Horntveth, an engaging passage of unison vibes and glockenspiel and a tumultuous ending lifted by bellowing trombone.

Just as strong was a nameless new composition that opened with driving bass and drums before collapsing into stuttering electronics. From there a second groove emerged, laying the foundations for heavy guitar riffs, symphonic brass and a scalic synth pattern that swept through the lot. It paved the way for a hard-hitting finish, shot through with synth and drumkit breakdowns, and two euphoric encores, "All I Know Is Tonight" and "Oslo Skyline". They could still have been louder and more visceral, but I was grinning, and at long last the crowd were on their feet.

Thomas Rees on Twitter

It was clear that sound levels were going to be on the quiet side of sensible

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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