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Jaga Jazzist: What We Must

Jaga Jazzist

Jaga Jazzist co-leader Lars Horntveth is a prodigy, having started the band and recorded an album by the time he was 14. The reedist/guitarist/keyboardist released his first solo CD last year, the incredible Pooka (Smalltown Supersound), which won Norway’s equivalent of a Grammy for best electronica album. And along with his Jaga and real-life bro, drummer Martin Horntveth, he’s one of the primaries in the Norwegian chart-topping pop band the National Bank.

It’s Lars’ talent that provides the 10-member Jaga Jazzist with the majority of its postjazz/rocktronica sound and vision. With a huge array of musicians and instruments at his disposal he can go large scale with the group’s compositions and arrangements, which has helped the now 11-year-old band reach an international audience beyond the fjords. What We Must (Ninja Tune) is the band’s latest long-player, and it’s another grand experience, with seven expertly arranged, multitiered songs featuring plenty of strings, horns and electronics.

The shoegaze-meets-prog rocker “All I Know Is Tonight” and “Stardust Hotel,” which features a descending keyboard riff and sound straight out of Dennis DeYoung’s bag of Styx, open the album with jolts. The low-key “For All You Happy People” sounds like it could have come from Lars’ solo CD, with its airy sax lines (so close-miked that you can hear the player’s inhalations and the pads hitting the keyholes), guitar harmonics and layered keyboard squiggles. “Swedenborgske Rom” starts with layered, harmonized voices and builds into a wall-of-sound ballad. “Mikado” and “I Have a Ghost, Now What?” are like Muzak for the postrock set-but in a good way-especially in the manner the wordless voices (sung live on the former and played as keyboard samples on the latter) carry melodies that might normally be played by strings.

I’m not sure how well track four, “Oslo Skyline,” captures its subject, but I do know that Jaga Jazzist represents some of the best things in modern Norwegian music.

Originally Published