Norway - Full Moon 231 - 07/02/15
When the Jaga gang released their previous studio album One-Armed Bandit, I was a bit sceptical at first. The album didn't quite work for me. That was until I experienced the band live a little later. It was a veritable firework and playing the album again afterwards has been pure delight. After the first spins of Starfire, I guess I felt about the same as with One-Armed Bandit at the start. It was great, but a little bit disappointing all the same. More spins of course make it grow. So now I'll only await the next chance to experience the Starfire tracks in a live setting to find out if they'll really take off.
My first impression was how electronic this album seemed compared to its predecessors. Mostly keyboards and real drums it seemed. I had to listen carefully several times to find out what is electronics and what is brass, woodwinds or guitars, due to the sound effects used. And yes, it is more emphasis on the electronics than earlier. I read that composer Lars Horntveth says he's been more inspired by hip hop after he moved to Los Angeles in 2012 and started to work on these compositions there. The other seven members flew in from Norway to do their parts, so this is surely a pure studio creation. But not all American as it was mixed at home in Norway. Anyway, although the acoustic and electric instruments are treated with electronic effects and along with the real electronic sounds, the album as a whole sounds quite organic. The Jaga Jazzist sound is apparent in every track. And they are as playful and inventive as ever. The jazz inputs might be less than usual, but Jaga is still inspired by jazz in many directions of the last 45 years or thereabouts, along with elements from jazz-rock, kraut rock, progressive rock and trip-hop to mention some. It's playful all the way and the variations within each track is great. There's the space travel and a merry quirky sounding synth along with more streamlined ones of the nearly 13 minutes long 'Oban', the mystique and oriental interludes of 'Prungen', the partly ethereal and lyrical, partly rhythmic and merry title track, the more and less hectic "Big City Music" and the somewhat colder and more distanced "Shinkansen".
To quote the Ninja Tune home page: 'Starfire is a beautiful, visceral, utterly exhilarating piece of work that keeps spiralling up and away, structurally complex, musically rigorous, but without ever losing touch with a certain earthy sensuality and human sympathy. It could just be Jaga's masterpiece.' Who knows. It might be. So far Starfire confirm Jaga Jazzist as one of Norway's best and most ground-breaking (big) bands and not just another band from L.A. Also, got to mention that the LP version of the album has a nice starfire gimmick effect very well worth checking out!
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