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Review: Jaga Jazzist ‘Starfire’

Basic CMYKI have always loved the free-form art that is jazz. It’s soulful, emotional, and you can still completely “rock out.” It’s a bit dark and mysterious and for anyone without a trained ear it can be extremely difficult to follow at times. When I first heard that there was an experimental jazz group, my interest was piqued immediately.

How could you take such a classic genre/sound, completely strip it down and make something new out of it? Jaga Jazzist are the ones crazy enough to do it. They curiously combine electro beats with some groovy jazz to make songs that are in constant motion.

Jaga Jazzist got their start in 1994 by Martin Horntveth and Ivar Christian Johansen. The band uses all the classic jazz instruments along with an array of electronic instruments. These two worlds of music colliding is really what give Jaga Jazzist a unique flare and make people feel like their ears are being turned inside out. They currently have 6 albums out, and their most recent one, “Starfire” definitely throws your brain and ears for a loop, and constantly keeps you on the edge wondering what crazy contorted sound they will come up with next.

There’s only 5 songs on the album, but do not be fooled, for each song runs for a minimum of 6 minutes. Being that this is still a jazz group, and taking into consideration the length of the songs, each track is filled with consistently developing sounds. The first number off the album, “Starfire” opens with a tame upbeat guitar and perfectly synched drums. Briskly the tune spirals into hypnotizing synths, that set the tone for the risky and explosive last 5 minutes. The drummer is constantly keeping up with the fast paced synths and doing a miraculous job keeping a constant beat that keeps everyone leveled even when the music does get out of control.

“Big City Music” opens with pretty twinkling synths and the drums abruptly take over and rip through the song. At one point there is light guitar strumming behind the almost robotic synths. It creates a unique paradox between classic/old and future, yet the two sounds are still able to come together and coalesce into something that compliments one another. This song still allows for the classic instruments to come through and eases the minds of many who may worry that the beloved jazz sound might get lost somewhere in the modern instruments. “Shinkansen” is a mind melting song that immediately makes you feel like you are floating away on the ethereal guitar, minimal tuba, and entrancing flute. Like many experimental tunes, it does rapidly twist and turn into a more complex blend of instruments, and a cocktail of different patterns.

“Oban” has a dreamy saxophone that serenades your senses and helps domesticate the sometimes puzzling electronic sounds. This tune goes back and forth from minimal classic jazz to bubbling, loud and orchestral electronic music. The closer, “Prungen” is slightly ominous and the saxophone sounds like it is almost breathing. The track feels like a battle between soft sounds and extremely charged and fast-paced electronic music.

The album is explosive and is truly unique. You can still feel the character in the album through the obvious hands on work that they do with their guitars, drums, tubas, etc. They do not rely solely on their synthesizers, but use them as a tool to guide and add a punch to each song. It’s an album that you cannot listen to once and completely understand all that is going on in each song. Hell, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to completely wrap their heads around every single little thing that happens throughout the album. But with each listen you feel like you are learning another secret that no one else is aware of.



Bella Elbaum is a Los Angeles based writer and music enthusiast. You can follow her on Twitter

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