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Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit CD (album) cover


Jaga Jazzist

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars New Jaga Jazzist album was released just in the middle of unusually snowy winter, not only there, in North of Europe, but it looked half of the world was under the snow! But this Norwegian band's music is strangely sunny and warm (as usual,by the way)!

Small orchestra of jazz and electronics musicians just matured and polished their product a bit more. Excellent melodies bring you somewhere on warm seaside, but are never too cheesy. The music sounds very light and easy accessible, but has inside complex jazzy structure, and still never cross the borderline with pop.

Even if not too much different from previous works, the album sounds fresh and pleasant. Possibly ,it's that kind of progressive nu.jazz which easily will attract new listeners to modern jazz fusion world.

I personally prefer a bit more "serious" sound in nu.jazz, with more acoustics, more tension, possible - more exclusive sound. But this Jaga Jazzist album is excellent entry to anyone wishing to start exploring nu.jazz world.

Report this review (#267418)
Posted Monday, February 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
4 stars Yeah, melodies, that's what is going on here, jazzy melodies that are rewarding experience. It should be taken as fact that they are probably good for tripping (fortunately, I don't do this kind of things - yes, I mean this "tripping").

Except this, let's state big yes - it crosses the line sometimes and explores Psychedelic (neo psych) regions, but also another, more important thing - yes, it's electronic a lot and some of you maybe know how much I hate electronic sounds in Prog. I hate them.

But here, it works, it's useful and couldn't be better with anything else (most possibly). Even not completely. This flavor of electronic sound may be too much for you and I've just listened recommendations and went for this album, that's it, without proper preparation before listening it. I'll probably leave it on

4(-), as first "half" is quite good and I like it a lot, but second one is, well, weaker but still, this album deserves attention.

Report this review (#269317)
Posted Wednesday, March 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
The Sleepwalker
4 stars One-Armed Bandit is the most recent album by the Norse group Jaga Jazzist. The group creates an unique sound, which I had never heard before I found these guys. The sound is very modern, blending electronics into jazz and creating a mood driven by ambience, catchy and uplifting melodies and a very rich and warm feel.

After the short introduction to the album, the title track burst loose with an uplifting clavinet driven melody. The piece proves to be one of the highlights of the albums, with a very notable, epic reprise of the main theme after the middle part. The group says the album to be (partly) inspired by fruit machines, hence the many a ascending melodies that can be noticed a lot in the title track. A thick drum fill takes the listener to "Bananfluer Overalt", which means fruit fly translated to English. The song feels more laid back than the previous track, being less uplifting and dynamic but rather a mellow, more ambient piece. Still, there are some very fine melodies to be heard. Same goes for the lengthy "Tocatto", that slowly builds towards its climax but never get over the top; "Music! Dance! Drama!" which I might call my favorite track of the album; and the album closer "Touch Of Evil". "220V/Spektral" is the only track on the album of which I have mixed feelings. It sounds good, but at the same time is feels a bit messy and perhaps out of place looking at the other songs. The two remaining songs, "Prognissekongen" and "Book Of Glass" both open in a way that could go anywhere, but fortunately they prove to be great tracks both sharing the dynamic feel of the title track.

One-Armed Bandit is a very molodic, uplifting and therefore likeable album. I must say that I not often feel like listening the entire album in one spin, perhaps because it's not all too diverse. Nevertheless, nearly all individual tracks are great and very enjoyable. The album features some very dynamic and energetic moments, like for instance the title track. A side note, when you find yourself liking the album and you have the chance to see these guys live, don't hesitate.

Report this review (#280347)
Posted Monday, May 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars It's been a while since the last Jaga Jazzist release, especially considering the highly active first 10 years of their career. Following the release of What We Must the members of the took some time off to collaborate with other artists while Mathias Eick and Lars Horntveth released solo albums of their own.

It seems to me that the members of the band weren't all that content with the stripped down style that their music was going towards and decided to, once again, spice things up with the sounds of electronica blended into the mix. The result was One-Armed Bandit, an album that might not be as Post-Rock oriented as What We Must nor as electronica-heavy as The Stix. Instead it marked a definite comeback to the style that Jaga Jazzist showed off on Magazine EP and especially on A Livingroom Hush. But make no mistake, Jaga Jazzist isn't the same band they were a decade ago meaning that they come off a bit more mature and conventional in their delivery this time around.

To me, One-Armed Bandit is easily the best recording that this band has made since A Livingroom Hush. In a way, this was the style that I was expecting Jaga Jazzist to move towards in the beginning of the previous decade and it's nice to see that they finally found their way back! The only real drawback here is the experimental aspect of the sound that seems to have been conveniently exchanged for beautiful melodies that lack a real punch. With the exception of the wild ride displayed on 220 V / Spektral this is basically a safe release that is sure to hit it off with the already established fan base while making a few new followers along the way.

One-Armed Bandit is a great comeback from Jaga Jazzist that really makes me feel enthusiastic about the future development of their style. Hopefully they'll get even more creative with their next release and show once again that Jaga Jazzist is a serious player in the development of jazz music!

***** star songs: 220 V / Spektral (7:03)

**** star songs: The Thing Introduces... (0:23) One-Armed Bandit (7:07) Bananfluer Overalt (6:16) Toccata (9:10) Prognissekongen (4:33) Book Of Glass (6:49) Music! Dance! Drama! (5:31) Touch Of Evil (6:40)

Report this review (#285360)
Posted Sunday, June 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars My favorite jazz rock/fusion album of the year for a reason.

Combining electronic music, indie, jazz, Zappa-esque fusion and the post-rock spirit ever present in Jaga Jazzist's music, 'One-Armed Bandit' is a very catchy album, one of those records you'll play in its entirety every single day for about a couple of months and then store it on your shelf until you feel you're in the mood to remember the great music you've heard.

'One-Armed Bandit' is a lot more proggier (and groovier, even though that's a rare combination) than the previous Jaga albums. It has lost a bit of the purer jazz spirit though; the synths are very proeminent and give this album a very distinctive sound.

Pros: original music, amazing horn section, clear production, "Prognissekongen" (the best song in the album).

Cons: last 3 songs aren't as good as the others; some compositions are a bit too repetitive and could have been shorter, for example the title track and "Toccata."

4 well-earned stars, an excellent addition to any fusion/electronic music fan.

Report this review (#308100)
Posted Wednesday, November 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars After my disappointment with A Livingroom Hush I hadn't planned to revisit further Jaga Jazzist albums, but their 2003 corporation with Motorpsycho and the quality of the songs that I streamed from this album had fired my interest again.

One-Armed Bandit is a great example that bright, accessible and harmonious music can still be fresh and interesting. Without resorting to pop sentimentalism, the band has crafted some delicate poppy jazz instrumentals here. There's often a modern electronic twist to the sound which provides for an original sound. The spirit of Philip Glass is present on plenty of occasions, most notably on Toccata, an inspired and well performed composition. It's one of my many favorites together with the dead-catchy title track, the dreamy Banafluer Overalt and the electronic bit Music! Dance! Drama!.

A good decade ago, Sweden was a melting pot of Prog creativity, but now it looks as if Norway has taken the lead, not only in metal but also in jazz. One-Armed Bandit is one from many strong Norwegian 2010 releases. 3.5 stars

Report this review (#359685)
Posted Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars I have heard few albums from 2010 but this is possibly the best of them. Although I have heard of Jaga Jazzist, this was the first album of theirs I have actually heard. This is instrumental music featuring many musicians and many different instruments. I like the mix of wind instruments and electric/electronic instruments. The sound is a combination of fusion, post- rock and electronica. A lot of the bass lines seem to be done on synth, which is cool because I'm a sucker for bass synth. It is possible that there is some fuzzy/distorted bass I'm confusing with synth.

The first time I listened to this, parts of it reminded me of Tortoise. Which is great because Tortoise is one of my favourite groups. It wasn't until I read the credits that I noticed that Tortoise drummer John McEntire helped with the mix. Makes sense now. I prefer whatever he did here to what he did on the latest Broken Social Scene album. I also prefer this album to the last Tortoise album as well. "Book Of Glass" is the most Tortoise-sounding song on the album. Jaga Jazzist may be one of the very few groups that sound similar to Tortoise. I'm only basing that on One Armed Bandit, as I have not yet heard their earlier material.

There is a part in the title track with sequencers that is really nice. Good distorted bass, whatever it is. "Bananfleur Overalt" is the standout track for me. There is a great melodic theme here which gets repeated. Nice twangy guitar in this song. "Toccata" is the longest song and can be almost hypnotic at times. "Prognissekongen" even has 'prog' in the title! I love when the trombones and other wind instruments come in. Cool part in the middle with distorted bass sound and string-synth. "Touch Of Evil" begins and ends with the sound of a helicopter. I like the main melody at the start of the song. Some good techno beats and handclaps along with some really rockin' guitar. Church organ near the end.

As with most newer releases I like, this album grows on me the more I hear it. I am definately interested in hearing the band's previous output. I may not like it as much as One Armed Bandit, but I could possibly like it even more than this. Will have to find out. I'm very impressed and it makes me happy knowing that there is still music as good as this being made in 2010. In the future I may consider this a masterpiece, but for now I give this a solid 4 stars.

Report this review (#368385)
Posted Thursday, December 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A collection of delightful, mostly melodic and upbeat music--not unlike Bill Bruford's EARTHWORKS, TORTOISE, and the great Minimalists though often more straightforward and predictable.

"One-armed Bandit" (9/10) is a charming, happy, hummable, and memorable tune--a cruisin' tune or a movie soundtrack intro or credits companion. I hear a little inluence of French soundtracks, BURT BACHARACH and even STEVE REICH minimalism. Same for the pretty, slower "Bananfleur Overalt." (8/10) Nice bass lines. "V,Spectral" (7/20) offers a SATIE-like piano intro before a funky, acid jazz feel takes over. More to the electronica side with this one, even the horns sound electronically treated. "Toccata" (9/10) is straight out of the STEVE REICH/PHILLIP GLASS school of minimalism. Add a little PAT METHENY sounds (drums & electronica) and you've got a classic Philip Glass soundtrack piece. "Prognissokongen" (7/10) is the supposed prog tribute. It still feels very 'French soundtrack somposer imitating Philip Glass' to me--even the speeded up section and crash. "Book of Glass" (8/10) is another pretty electronic song--very STEREOLAB-like. Cool song! "Music! Dance! Drama!" (7/10) is a TORTOISE-STEROLAB-MONO (British version) styled song perfect for riding around in the city tour bus. "Touch of Evil" (8/10) has an emo-angsty spy-espionage movie soundtrack feel to it. It's actually a very cool, hauntingly beautiful song--complete with some upfront Euro-disco sounds and themes to it.

A pleasant, fun, wholly listenable and entertaining music experience. Great music for driving the countryside or doing housework! Solid four stars.

Report this review (#459424)
Posted Sunday, June 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Up-Beat, Modern, Grooving, Just a Little Complexity

Jaga Jazzist's ONE ARM BANDIT is pretty unique in my collection in that is self-consciously hip and modern. I'm not a big fan of modern electronica, which is a heavy element here, but the almost gleeful tone of this record makes me drop my baggage and just enjoy. This record is full of energy, and plenty of risks. The mix can get very busy, occasionally noisy, but the group seems to manage to keep it all together. The title track has at least five major musical ideas that sound very different, from almost free jazz to post-rock, a little math, a little avant-gard, and of course the theatrical electronics. Thankfully, I think most of the drums are live, and this really helps keep some degree of flesh and blood feel to the music. (Track 8, "Music! Dance! Drama! is an exception, I believe using triggered electronic drum sounds) There is a looseness to the beats in places that just can't be reproduced by a sequencer. I think this is what makes this music work this well for me.

The album is all-instrumental, probably best categorized as modern fusion. All guitars are clean and for the most part play a support role. Drums and keyboards rule the mix, with horns adding flavor. Even during some more dream-like passages, the rhythm continues to churn along excitedly. This is great music to put yourself back into a good mood. There are some interesting harmonic and melodic choices that mark this album as somewhat experimental. The risks pay off, and really the only complaint I have about the album is that the band occasionally lets sections hang on a little long without adding tension. But that's really a minor quibble, especially compared to some other music.

Some sections do get a little repetitive and sound like soundtrack music. "Toccata" is several minutes too long. Luckily, the next track is the aptly named "Prognissekongen" (at least the prog part), which packs massive overlapping lines in complex time all in 4:30. Despite some previous reviewers' comments, I feel that the band continue to pull out new tracks all the way up until the final track. While the album is quite coherent in sound, each track has its own vibe and statement. This isn't a fusion record with long sections of jams. Clearly, every song is composed and any improvisation is set around a structure specific to that tune.

This is a little notch above some of the 4 star albums in my list but still not quite enough to reach masterpiece status. Still, it has a unique spot in my music collection, and one that I come back to more often than most albums that I churn through. Easily recommend.

Report this review (#494183)
Posted Monday, August 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you've read some of my previous reviews, you will know I'm always on the lookout for bands that combine the wit of the Canterbury scene with the lyricism of Bill Bruford's Earthworks and the orchestral prowess of early 1970s Frank Zappa. And if there's one Zappa album I return to again and again, not just for the expert soloing, but especially because of its wonderfully bright ensemble playing, it's THE GRAND WAZOO, surely one of the very best "progressive fusion" albums - far more exciting than the comparatively monochrome HOT RATS!

I'm not familiar with anything Jaga Jazzist recorded before ONE-ARMED BANDIT... I simply bought this album because of the glowing reviews I kept reading, and I wasn't disappointed. The Norwegian band definitely seem to have taken a leaf out of Zappa's book. They've managed to resurrect that gorgeous WAZOO sound, combining it with 21st century electronics (never too much!) and with some exuberant Steve Reich-type minimalism. (Perhaps it 's more appropriate to speak of Reichian "pastiche", since the band take minimalism by the scruff of the neck - using repetitive phrases without embarrasment and working themselves into a frenzy!)

When seen purely as compositions (in which unexpected things tend to happen!) most of these tracks are a delight; and for the discerning prog lover it'll be even better news that instruments as diverse as tuba, vibraphone and electric guitar sometimes detach themselves from the "orchestra", executing neat little phrases and elegant miniature solos. A brilliant band; I can't wait to find out what they will do next.

Report this review (#825081)
Posted Thursday, September 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars I feel compelled to pen a few words - if only to justify my low overall ratings of the band's output.

To put them in the Jazz Rock/Fusion genre appears to be rather erroneous. Contrary to what their name implies and the classification at PA, they have little - if anything to do with Jazz. Primarily, because they just don't "swing". The presence of wind instruments alone doesn't make it Jazz.

Their first release was rather juvenile, but that's hardly surprising of 14 year olds and in that light it deserved support. Trouble is that their music - especially compositions - have matured only slightly since.

One would anticipate a lot more from a 10 piece band and whilst this album is one of their better ones, it still is mediocre by any standards. Fragmented, robotic compositions have no place in any form of Jazz, contrary to some pleasing individual playing.

Only in comparison with their other works, I'd rate this a very weak 3, but in reality it's barely above 2 in my books. Needless to say, these albums will not stay with me long, but such things happen when one buys on "expert" recommendations.

Report this review (#870021)
Posted Sunday, December 2, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I decided to review something a little different tonight. One of my favorite subgenres of progressive rock is fusion jazz. Launched into existence by the likes of Larry Coryell, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in the 60s, the genre evolved and integrated into the progressive scene in the 70s with bands such as Dixie Dregs, 10 Years After, Return to Forever and then in the 80s with bands like Shadowfax.

Of course, Magma was and remains a signature Progressive Fusion Jazz group that I had the pleasure to see live at NEARfest a few years back. Recently I discovered a band that continues this eclectic subgenre into the current decade with a fresh twist . Jaga Jazzist is a band from Norway that has released several albums since 1996. The one that I am reviewing is the most recent "One Arm Bandit" 2010. I recently watched some great video concert footage from a prior release "What we Must" that I plan to review soon as well. Anyway this is an awesome addition to my Fusion Jazz collection. Now for a track by track breakdown:

1. The Thing Introduces... (0:23) ? Opening ambiance, cymbals and perhaps a gong?

2. One-Armed Bandit (7:08) ? This song is very upbeat, and moving; almost danceable. It has the air of a live show. Then it changes into a complex electronica reminiscent of a video game sound track. Then it goes back to the upbeat rolling jazzy track that started the song. It has a great blend of live sounding acoustic instrumentation integrated with electronica. Of course the sound effects at the very end give the name of the song away as you hear the coins roll out of the machine.

3. Bananfluer overalt (6:17) - It begins with a short drum track reminiscent of Hawaii Five O, but then gets very jazzy, with off-beat odd time signatures. As the song moves on, symphonic keys join (strings and voices), along with nicely played guitar leads. The music is sufficiently complex but not overly crowded. There are parts that are beautiful in its simplicity. There are major changes throughout this song in instrumentation and composition, but a strong thread of a common theme that continues throughout.

4. 220 V / Spektral (7:03) ? This opens with a nicely done piano melody and bass with an effect that I could not quite identify. The song then picks up in intensity, with heavy drums, space-rock synth effects, bells, and some other sounds that I have not quite placed. This song has the signature "back beat" that I like in modern progressive jazz. About half way through, this song gets a little repetitive, and I started to lose interest. The song could have been 2 minutes shorter and been a better track.

5. Toccata. (9:11) ? This starts with a rather repetitive but catchy organ track with other instrumentation following along. Trombones and Tuba join the party. Then we get an explosion of nice fat and warm drumming. The drums are complex in the beat, but could have been pulled off on a four piece set for all I know. There is a little synth thrown in for texture, but for the most part this is an instrumental track featuring wind instruments. The dynamic creativity in the horns will keep your attention.

6. Prognissekongen (4:34) ? This is one big track. It starts with a jazzy but bombastic syncopated drumming with vibes. They explore many different musical modes in this track. The talent of the drummer is evident by signature jazz solos that are featured throughout. The" bigger than life" background of the song is augmented with discordant piano and synth that reaches a climax of pure chaos before folding back into upbeat sound that started the song. This track just flies by and is probably my favorite on the record.

7. Book of Glass (6:49) ? This song is not very organized at first. It almost seems a little out of place after the perfect composition of the previous track; however after a few minutes it starts to pick up steam, and continues the excellence from Prognissekongen. The technical aspects of this song are incredible. There are several things going on here from a fast pace drumming, to a continuous synth droning, to a quick guitar melody and lead keyboard that is incredible. I almost consider this a part of the prior track as it seem to resolve what was not previously expressed.

8. Music! Dance! Drama! (5:32) ? This track opens with a strong off -beat drumming and space rock background. The trumpet and trombone take the lead. There are some classic symphonic elements with instruments playing in full synchronization and others playing in completely different time signatures but fully complimenting the main timing. There is a lot of music buried in this track which takes a couple of listens to find.

9. Touch of Evil (6:40) ? This could be a movie track; a spy movie, perhaps the opening to the next James Bond, however it is not corny. It transitions into a steady down-to-earth beat with an ever changing bass line and keyboards providing the mood. The transition from a symphonic movie track to progressive jazz is seamless. It is constantly changing with a very modern feel. There is an electric guitar synchronized with a saxophone at one point that produces a unique sound. As it built towards the end of the track, an unexpected but complimentary pipe organ joins the party. It ends just as it begun with a helicopter sample.

I am happy that I was introduced to this band. Technically speaking it is one of my current favorites.

Report this review (#884350)
Posted Saturday, December 29, 2012 | Review Permalink
Italian Prog Specialist
3 stars Balancing on the line between smooth, suave and elegant on one side and a bit tepid, glossy and sweetly melodious on the other, you should be able to infer that this is no roller-coaster ride of an album.

Don't be fooled though! This is a busily arranged and musically refined and proficient slice of music. Working on a basis of rather groovy, modern fusion mixed up with a fair bit of electronica and more atmospheric/soundtrack-like (almost post-rock-ish) sensibilities, it makes for quite a pleasing mix of genres and sounds, but I feel the fusion always comes out on top (even at times when the electronica goes as far down as the rhythm department). At the same time it manages to be relentlessly poppy, with myriads of sunny, happy-go-lucky melodies and harmonies popping up to the left and right.

There is an airy, almost fluffy, freshness to the compositions, regardless of a fuzzy, buzzing, mischievous richness that lurks beneath the shinier melodic surface. It sounds neat, clean, warm and playful. This is in part due to the compositions themselves, often strangely (but rather charmingly) naïve and child-like. Perhaps ripped out of a kids' TV show or a friendly, flowery video game with a slight penchant for the absurd or surreal? The presence and particular use of clarinet, vibraphone, tuba, trumpet and saxophone on One-Armed Bandit enhance this feeling further.

Now and then things move into slightly darker territories, but as everything is relative it is the darkness of a nice, white cloud blocking the sun on an otherwise perfect summer's day. It is hard to find friction. And I need it, something that weighs the album down and connects me to the joyride. It teases with slight abrasiveness in the keyboards, a touch of ominous brass instrument majesty or a build up of colder and clearer free-form progressive structures, lures you in with a set of awkward atonal or glitch'y effects and a sudden eruption of earnest and fiery fusion rhythm and a tenser melody, but all too soon falls back into the meticulous and pleasurable lull of before. Charming, soothing, refined, admirable. But at times I find myself thinking: this is speed lounge. And it is a bit sad, because I rather like and admire what is going on here. It is just a bit too polite, quaint and bloodless in spite of the warm, vibrant richness.

Easy to like, impossible to love.

3 stars.


Report this review (#936886)
Posted Friday, March 29, 2013 | Review Permalink

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