Review of Starfire Album by Jaga Jazzist

Here at Contact Towers we're always fascinated by the multi-various uses of the word "Interesting" when referred to a new release, often it's a nudge-wink metaphor for it being rubbish, over hyped or just plain weird: In short these days it's the last domain of the sarcastialist.

Jaga Jazzist Starfire Album

Well, today our campaign to restore the real meaning of interesting to the world of rock criticism begins. It's going for context to be fought on the grounds of sanity and tradition, a bit like the activism carried out in the name of those folks who're after the restoration of Christmas, but we promise you that it'll be much more, uhm - well, interesting than that.

'Starfire' is Jaga Jazzist's fifth proper studio album and the main reason why we want the I-word returned to its normal place in the British public lexicon. There are other adjectives we could use to describe its quintet of pieces - fascinating, absorbing, even exhilarating - but we don't get paid by the word here, and the Norwegian octet (By the way we've also been DYING to use that word for years) deserve to be recognised by the most meaningful handle for their music, which we're not ashamed to tell you is the epitome of that undoubtedly appropriate adjective, interesting.

Formed twenty years ago in the hamlet of Tønsburg by a then 14-year-old Lars Horntveth and, amongst others, siblings Martin and Line, over the past two decades the band/collective have sought to deliberately bend a growing band of listeners' perceptions, in the process making the sonically intricate accessible. 'Starfire' is the result of a change in their creative ways of working, Horntveth relocating at its genesis to Los Angeles and being joined by colleagues in ones and twos to work elementally, before he returned to their home-grown studio to shape the results.

The end product is remarkable in the sense that whilst most musicians given their head can opt to use extra space as a ticket to proving their virtuosity, not a moment on 'Starfire' feels wasted, filler, or lacking direction. The titular opener is a case in point, comprised of splurges of HudMo white noise, cinematic keyboards and the complex time signatures usually associated with prog and jazz. For most outfits this conscious spit in the face of orthodoxy would be a demanding enough undertaking, but not only does its successor 'Big City Music' unravel playfully into just over fourteen minutes duration, it also hitches a lift with haunting Age of Aquarian phrases amongst a soup of gleeful 20th century references, to beguiling effect.

Whilst it's straightforward to see traces of what might be deemed an influence - Sun Ra's cosmic abstractions, Steve Reich's threaded minimalism, most obviously the post rock of Tortoise - the Jaga Jazzist ethos has been to remain connected to the mainstream by a series of expansions on, not concessions to, its need for familiarity. 'Starfire''s apex, 'Oban', is accordingly the evolutionary nub of Horntveth's vision, in turn orthodox and then urgent, filled with warmth and nuance which the often blunt solipsism of the jamming artist sometimes relegates to a negligible priority.

Despite this commitment to making what's frequently perceived as the domain of the margins something far more relatable, it goes without saying that 'Starfire' remains a niche work, albeit one of outstanding quality. Its greatest strength is that despite being inevitably savoured by purists, it's been built to open the door to a far wider audience, but whether you choose to pursue it may depend on how you define one of the most hijacked words in the English language: interesting.   


Andy Peterson

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