A decade of Jaga Jazzist

They’ve epitomised Norwegian cool, they’ve re-defined jazz and they’ve managed to bridge improvisation with electronica and post-rock. Jaga Jazzist have been around for a decade now, and it’s time to celebrate.

Jaga Jazzist

Ten-piece Jaga Jazzist celebrate ten years of touring in Norway and abroad, ten years of endless rehearsals, ten years of five releases, ten years of contributions a long list of other acts’ releases, ten years of hard work but also ten years of acclaim, admiration and adoration. Jaga Jazzist have made a vital contribution to Norwegian music’s strengthened international image and it’s time to celebrate.

The beginning
The Jaga story begins in the mid-sized town of Tønsberg in the southern part of Norway, ten years ago. A collective of friends with a mutual interest in jazz and related sounds gather to listen to records and ultimately start to jam and write tunes. The informal jams and listening sessions soon grew to become a band that would change the Norwegian jazz and club scene over the next decade.

Jaga’s debut in the recorded format came in the form of an EP titled ‘Jævla Jazzist Grete Stitz’, released in 1996 and now sold out. In 1998 dBut Records released their second outing, the ‘Magazine EP’ – recently re-released to great critical acclaim on Smalltown Supersound. The collective’s debut album and definitive break-through came in 2001 with ‘A Livingroom Hush’. The album, recorded and mixed in Bergen’s Duper Studios and produced by Jørgen Træen, was released by Warner in Norway but it was London’s legendary indie Ninja Tunes that was to secure the world-wide rights of the album. ‘A Livingroom Hush’ sold nearly to gold in Norway and was voted Jazz album of the Year by BBC Music. Jaga’s second full-length album ‘The Stix’ saw its domestic release in August 2002 and the international release the next spring. ‘The Stix’ reached no. 3 on the domestic sales charts, and was met with very strong reviews at home and abroad. Jaga have followed up on the strong album reviews with highly successful tours in Europe, USA and Canada.

A player’s band
The list of albums that feature contributions from Jaga members can be read as an overview of the last decades’ most central Norwegian releases. String arrangements, horn section playing, electronic assistance, production and session work by Jaga members have secured critical acclaim and a bit of that magical touch for such acts as Cato Salsa Experience, Turbonegro, Motorpsycho, Euroboys, d’Sound, Cloroform, Briskeby, Ricochets, Big Bang and King Midas.

Over the years a number of players have joined and exited the ranks of Jaga Jazzist, and the collective now counts ten members: Mathias Eick (trumpet, double bass, keys), Harald Frøland (guitars + effects), Even Ormestad (bass + keys), Andreas Mjøs (vibraphone, guitars, percussion + electronics), Line Horntveth (tuba + percussion), Martin Horntveth (drums + drum-machines), Lars Horntveth (tenor sax, bass-clarinet, guitars + keys), Andreas Schei (keyboards), Ketil Einarsen (flutes, Wind Controller, percussion + keys) and Lars Wabø (trombone + percussion).

One of the factors that can explain the collective’s loyal following lies in the live shows. Nothing can beat a fuelled and energetic ten-piece strong ensemble blowing at full force. Propelled by the complex yet driven drumming courtesy of Martin Horntveth, mated with tasteful keyboard work, carefully edited loops and samples and a topped off with tight horn section, Jaga’s tunes are definitely delivered in a package that few, if any other ensembles can match. The compositional skills of brothers Lars and Martin (who write the bulk of the tunes) are well developed with a strong sense of melody and an ability to write odd time changes and polyrhythmic that sound natural and grooving. Jaga bring together a wide range of influences into their coherent and unique concoction: improv, electronica, contemporary, noise, post-rock. A quote from the Wire pretty much sums it all up: “A feast of infectious beats and exciting arrangements delicately resolved with nuance to produce a variety of atmospheric pleasures.”

Two of Jaga Jazzist’s most central members, brothers Lars and Martin Horntveth, experienced a domestic commercial break-through this autumn in the form of the National Bank project that includes such acclaimed performers as vocalist and highly successful solo-artist Thomas Dybdahl and (former Jaga member) keyboardist Morten Qvenild – the second half of duo Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. Spearheaded by the infectious single ‘Tolerate’, the National Bank’s (self-titled) debut album subsequently went to gold and spawned a sold-out domestic tour.

What’s up
A new album is in the works now. The first studio sessions were done in Cologne at the Uphon Studios (home of Notwist among others). Further sessions and the laborious mixing process take place at Oslo’s Propeller Studios under the guidance of Norway’s currently hottest producer, Kåre Vestrheim (of Gåte, Kaizers Orchestra, Gluecifer fame). The as-of-yet untitled album is scheduled for release on Smalltown Supersound in February next year.

Jaga Jazzist is intrinsically linked to one of Oslo’s most central clubs: Blå. What band could better fit the bill on the club’s opening night in 1998 than Jaga Jazzist and their genre-defying brew of eclectic breaks and improv. Blå and Jaga share the same philosophy of melting genres, exploration and the creation of a totally new scene of their own. The renowned club was until recently facing the threat of bankruptcy, but promise of a grant from the Oslo city administration has saved next year’s budget. Fittingly, it’s the inaugural band that is set to play the salvaged club as it enters a more secure period.

Jaga Jazzist’s ten-year anniversary in mid-December could not be staged at any other venue than Blå. A strong roster of bands linked to Jaga filled the club by the Akerselva River to the max: Shining, the National Bank, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Lars Horntveth and the Pooka String Septet to name a few of the acts that shared the Blå stage in December 2004.

It’s been ten eventful and rewarding years – let’s hope there will be many more to come.

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