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Jaga Jazzist
One-Armed Bandit John Doran , March 1st, 2010 11:38

The brightly coloured packaging of Jaga Jazzist's fifth album will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has enjoyed what my mother would term a misspent youth. Along with a preternatural ability to procure a lock-in and play darts and killer, the career drinker will be intimate with the fruity. This bright and cheerful collection of plums, cherries, bells, bars, lucky sevens, grapes and oranges can also evoke a childhood misspent on the more innocent one-armed bandit, ostracised to the amusement arcades of seaside towns in the late 70s when electronic, lever-less models tied in to The Professionals, Monopoly and Star Trek flooded in.

But back when things were more uniform, these symbols would have been as widely recognized in JJ's native Oslo as they were in Hastings or Las Vegas. And an old-school, coin-operated slot machine for gamblers is a pretty good metaphor for the latest offering by this Norwegian jazz ensemble. Pull the arm down, watch the reels spin and compare the random selection of images — from a set collection of course — present themselves to you. Or in this case, be (mainly) amazed by the three contrasting styles they effortlessly weave together: you may find yourself gawping at a song that calls to mind Tortoise, Ornette Coleman and Tony Allen. Perhaps the shadow of Tortoise over proceedings shouldn't be that surprising given that John McIntyre had to take over mixing duties from Jørgen Træen (who sadly developed tinnitus) and is credited with "analogue synth processing".

Jaga Jazzist are as capable of acting on a challenge, as they are at surprising, as they are at entertaining. 'Toccata', one of several stand-out tracks, gives a knowing nod to Philip Glass, building slowly around choppy, looping and contrasting piano and glockenspiel lines until bearded beat behemoth Martin Horntveth kicks in with a rhythm that switches effortlessly between a locked swing groove and some blasting Buddy Rich fills. Add trombone and tuba to provide a parping bass groove and the results sound not unlike Penguin Cafe Orchestra providing a live soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, with beats provided by St Germain and DJ Shadow. Here, as elsewhere, there's something of the spirit of Chet Baker in Mathias Eick's sweetly seductive, honeyed trumpet tones.

The title track has jaunty, breezy film score music worthy of Roy Budd's classic Get Carter soundtrack rubbing shoulders with aqueous Robert Fripp guitar ambience and overdriven Bootsy Collins-style bass. These, of course, are just touchpoints; the core of this music is much more modern and never sinks to pastiche. The rhythms are intelligent but never far away from a dancefloor-friendly groove. The low end, whether provided by tuba, double bass or MOOG, is always deployed in a satisfyingly ribcage-shaking club-friendly manner, even though JJ undoubtedly have the armchair in mind.

Jaga Jazzist's greatest musical asset is not their undoubted multi-instrumental, genre-spanning skill, but their ability to effortlessly mix inventiveness with accessibility. At their best, they bring to mind Ennio Morricone's sterling work in the fields of jazz, lounge and avant pop through the 60s and 70s — and for the listener, that's the equivalent of hitting three bars in a row.