Music Reviews
One Armed Bandit

Jaga Jazzist One Armed Bandit

(Ninja Tune) Rating - 10/10

Although I realize the rather premature nature of this statement, it could very well be that with One Armed Bandit, Norway's Jaga Jazzist have produced the album of the year. While trying to restrain the unavoidable sense of hyperbole, its hard to conceive that any other releases will contain anywhere near the same level of imaginative, dynamic and joyously enjoyable sounds. Listening to this record is like knocking back a potent distillation of the unleashed potential of music; by turns inspiring and bewildering, these snake-like compositions align exotic, hypnotic meters of the like usually found in the darker recesses of Jazz's underbelly with moments of such contrasting darkness and light as to be initially overwhelming. The fact that repeated listenings bear so much fruit is a testament to the skill and maturity of all involved. Make no mistake, this is a landmark record.

Anyone who heard their last record, 2005's epic What We Must will know that this is a band to keep a very close eye on. Their knack for effortlessly gorgeous melodies and organic, flowing composition became something of an instantaneous hallmark, with the towering Oslo Skyline as the record's centerpiece. Here the band have pushed even further away from the confines of traditional song structure, preferring to ride the rhythms out to wherever the music takes them, reeling through an abundance of musical styles, all whilst retaining the strongly memorable hooks that have drawn them such widespread acclaim. 

Working as one writhing, interlocked beast, these nine gentleman from Scandinavia have perfected a unique sound that seamlessly melds the visionary fusion of the likes of Frank Zappa and John MacLaughlin's Mahvishnu Orchestra with the cyclical, minimalist composition found in the Glass/Reich domain. Add in a hearty nod to contemporary electronic music and a healthy dose of wide-eyed cinematic expressionism and you have a frankly untouchable band at the peak of its powers.

With such a rich variety in instrumentation at their disposal, it is once again a testament to the skill in restraint shown that each element weaves perfectly in and out of focus for the album's duration. From simple rhythmical augmentation by urgently stabbing horns or a hammered Fender Rhodes, a soaring flute might emerge to take the lead melody, or the aforementioned horns might emerge again, this time flowing freely over the top of a pulsing, constantly shifting beast of a bassline. Consequently this is music that feels joyous and expressive, bold and majestic and truly alive.

It is difficult to envision the process involved in composing music of this scope, and that sense of awe only adds to the level of appreciation. There is something quite tribal involved here: when human beings combine to produce such collective power in a way that feels so naturally harmonious, it is impossible not to get sucked in on some purely base level. Such is the lucid, expansive development contained herein that the listener is drawn into their world and made to feel at home without even realising how. You may notice I haven’t singled out any individual tracks for mention, the reason being that this is not a record to think about in such terms. This is one complete and delightful adventure from start to finish and should be listened to in that manner for your full benefit.

Ultimately, this is what more bands should be striving to achieve: to thrill us, inspire us and confuse us - often all at the same time; to utiliize technology for the betterment of the whole rather than for technologies sake; and to allow multiple talents to merge and shine without a sense of the intrusion of personal ego. This record is nigh perfect example of what can be achieved through relentless ambition, the realization of potential and the monumentally potent collective elemental force. I sincerely doubt it will be bettered for many a day.