Ayo Jegede
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June 24, 2005
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Jaga Jazzist
What We Must


there are two groups of people who listen to Jazz: aggressive followers of the music who find it distinguished by a very hefty history and, accordingly, only buy albums sanctioned explicitly or implicitly by Blue Note or Columbia. the second group knows the musical entity, understands that it contains brass thingamajigs, and at most pay respect to it; for them Genius Loves Company and Come Away With Me represent brief listens diverging from their usual radio course. to both groups the music of Jazz is private, the first group believing that appreciating Chet Baker or Nat "King" Cole means doing away with peripheral disturbances while the second group just doesn't think that 'Sunrise' is good to put on their 'Kegger PaRtAy!!' mixed cd. there's no enmity between the two, merely reciprocal recognition of the other side. though i suspect the first group feels their love of Cab Calloway and Charlie Parker a queer attachment in the era of Kelly Clarkson and Linkin Park.

then there's Norway.

the story of Jaga Jazzist--a hulking but complimentarily articulating Norwegian dectet*--is one that alienates both sides of the bicameral Jazz listenership: they're Nu-Jazz, an appellation scoffed at by classicists and avoided by those who never took Jazz seriously in the first place. but their work prior to What We Must didn't stray too aggressively from traditionalist Jazz structures, albums like A Livingroom Hush and The Stix still only using light distortion and some loops to place themselves in the particular sub-genre. what's different about What We Must is first that it fully revels in its status as a Jazz dredge, incorporating elements of progressive post-rock and a stronger electronic backbone. many will complain that the instruments of the genre that should remain at the fore were swallowed unfairly, leaving only a Jazz-lite Godspeed You! Black Emperor. yet a comparison to one of the most identifiable post-rock supergroups isn't malapropos. besides sharing large sizes, both groups count on their muscularity to power their music but Jaga Jazzist, coming from a Jazz locus, have far greater dexterity.

What We Must debuted on the Norwegian charts at number 4, right behind Queens of The Stone Age's Lullabies to Paralyze. the idea of a Nu-Jazz supergroup--much less a Jazz musician--debuting in the top ten position today of any country is phenomenally implausible. but i suspect that they managed to not because of propinquity, but because they made an album equipped with a very strong pop backbone. sad to say, what usually plagues Godspeed is its somewhat supercilious ascension to the climax, one that has remained a constant feature throughout the entity's catalogue. 'All I know is Tonight,' the opening salvo on What We Must, precisely abjures that route and opens immediately with the songs core. the drumming on this track and throughout is phenomenal, maintaining an ensorcelling tempo and depth. the trumpet and french horn are both supplemented by matching vocals, and the guitars and keyboards ensure no space is left untouched.

follower 'Stardust Hotel' proceeds with a slightly variant structure, the drumming forming the audible core of the song while a clarinet paints an undulating, unbroken line until descending with the guitars and other brass instruments. 'For All You Happy People' reaches closest to a modern Jazz structure, the brass instruments becoming animating roles while the others wait in the periphery. i say 'wait' because both these tracks lead into 'Oslo Skyline,' the band's veritable career zenith. the track starts out as a structured, if not reticent vision, slowly working its way into the center. it builds and builds until coming towards an absolutely effulgent release in the center, the guitars and drums punching through and the trumpets seemingly extending the rush by extending their notes. the song is more than amazing, it's practically sentient and encapsulates a group nearing the edge of a new front in the music in general.

from there 'Swedednborgske Rom' eases you back into a calm all the while retaining the same arching crescendo as the previous song, the only difference being an identiable (but still enrapturing) build all through. 'Mikado's' more electronic posture may initially be off-putting, but it follows with a copacetic, lithe amalgam of pop drumming and Jazz pop. closer 'I Have a Ghost, Now What?' may not be a desired end, but i doubt that's any fault of the song itself. each piece is as crisp as ever and each movement as compelling; the problem, it seems, is that the album ends at all. What We Must is a barrage of catchy, beautifully written music, not just Jazz. either side of the entrenched Jazz separation should appreciate such greatness.

*dectet isn't a word, it just felt lessening to refer to the group as a 'ten-piece.'

Release date: April 19, 2005
Label: Ninja Tune
Rating: 9.5 / 10

[RMR]