Jaga Jazzist, Vienna Porgy & Bess, 10 November 2015

Fabulous evening of out-there prog/jazz/electronica action from this phenomenally talented Norwegian octet. It’s been ten long years since I last saw Jaga Jazzist at the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton, an intimate upstairs venue that will forever hold a special place in my heart by dint of the fact that I saw my first Swans concert there (the Children of God tour in 1987). Back in 2005, though, I knew precious little about jazz of any stripe, and it was only thanks to my friend J. coming down to Brighton to see this group that I ended up at the Pavilion at all. Come to think of it, it must also have been around that time that I saw the late, much missed Esbjorn Svensson and his trio at the Dome next door, another important step in my discovery of jazz. But I digress.

I’ve long been a sucker for large ensembles, from that other Nordic big band Fire! Orchestra (whom I’ve sadly yet to catch live) to Peter Brötzmann’s epic, and now retired, Chicago Tentet. The physical presence of a large number of people on stage inspires awe and wonderment, underlines the significance of collective activity, and not least produces a massive wall of sound that has the power to flatten anything in its way. In the case of Jaga Jazzist, the vivid tones of the guitars, keyboards, vibraphone, brass and reeds combine to form a dreamlike soundworld that cascades around the infectious grooves proposed by the bass and drums.

Speaking of drums, it’s drummer Martin Horntveth who readily assumes the role of face and voice of Jaga Jazzist. Sitting off to the side of the stage, his impressive beard lending him the air of a friendly backwoodsman, Horntveth introduces the songs and acts as the convivial cheerleader of the evening. His multi-instrumentalist brother Lars, the group’s main composer, occupies centre stage but stays out of the limelight. Switching between guitar, reeds and goodness knows what else, Lars is the architect of the pulsing melodies that define the immensely persuasive Jaga sound. Meanwhile, the tuba and trombone form an exultant partnership up at the back, their jazzy tone perfectly complementing the burbling tide of the synths.

The stage itself is beautifully lit, with rows of multi-coloured upright poles evoking some kind of playful, welcoming forest. It’s an impression amply reinforced by the spirited manner in which the group goes about its business. Lively and vivacious to the end, Jaga Jazzist warm the feet while appealing directly to the head and heart.

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