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Jaga Jazzist: Starfire

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If Return to Forever in their chopsiest, synth-heaviest incarnation had continued evolving into the age of electronic dance music, they’d sound much like Norway’s Jaga Jazzist. Even their newest album’s title, Starfire, suggests RTF and their ilk. But on their seventh full-length, the chops and synths are really Jaga Jazzist’s only remaining connection to jazz. The rest is a series of multilayered vamps, mesmerizing in their way but also mind-numbing.

Like much dance music, Starfire‘s melodies are all but nonexistent. The title track is a panoply of drones, riffs and obbligati; even the breaks on “Big City Music” are collages of recycled motif. And there is certainly little to no improvisation. The harmonies embrace convention; the rhythms are insistent and deceptively simple. (Drummer Martin Horntveth loves flash, but his sixteenth notes on “Oban” merely obscure a backbeat.)

Instead, the brothers Horntveth-Jaga Jazzist’s core-get their jollies from the introduction and interaction of contrasting timbres. Often the contrasts are between synthetics and organics: On the delicate “Shinkansen,” Andreas Mjøs’ acoustic guitar strumming is sandwiched between dreamlike electronic tendrils, with Line Horntveth’s flutes soon entering on top and entangling itself in further electronics. On “Prungen,” there’s a bit of faux-Indian raga alternating with thudding drums and synthesizer distortion. But none of it maintains interest for long; though new elements are constantly introduced, they almost immediately settle into ruts that rely on contrast with the next new element. Even when they display high energy, which is often, Starfire‘s five tracks are all ultimately their own brand of drone. They can invoke a trance, perhaps a pleasant one, but not the kind that encourages jazz lovers’ active listening.

Originally Published