Jaga Jazzist return with their new album “Pyramid” on August 7th, 2020, and it’s quite a trip. It’s from an era when albums were meant to be listened to in their entirety. Each track builds upon the prior one and seemingly the pace picks up from one to the next. Whilst the band wouldn’t describe “Pyramid” as a concept album, they see the track titles as a conceptual starting point from which the listener can construct whatever story flows out of the songs. The album title refers to the building blocks which make up a pyramid, and how each of the four tracks – and their constituent parts – fit together. Lars Horntveth, leader of Jaga says: “I felt that this album is a small symphony, each part containing its own rooms to explore.”
Jaga Jazzist is a legendary Norwegian eight-piece band with most members being multi-instrumentalists. Their sound is tough to classify as they definitely have elements of jazz, funk, jamtronica, trace and psychedelia. This album is their first since 2015’s “Starfire”, their ninth album in a career now spanning four decades, but it marks the group’s debut on Brainfeeder, the LA-based imprint curated by Flying Lotus.
Each of the album’s four longform entries evolves over carefully plotted movements, the tracks’ technicolour threads dreamily unspooling. For me, the album should be heard end to end as it seems like an epic journey where Tomita is introduced first, then Spiral Era is an interlude before we get to The Shrine (the Pyramid) and ultimately arrival at the Apex. Each track picks up pace successive smashing the sound barrier in Apex. Have a listen and read a rundown track-by-track below.
- Tomita is a nod to Japanese composer and synth player Isao Tomita and the title inspired me to find that he is considered a pioneer of electronic music and space music, having experimented with the Moog early on. Tomita is the only track (so far) that has an animated video. It seems to set the stage for the rest of the album, assuming that the only figure in the song is actually Tomita and he’s running to The Shrine, (or the Pyramid). There’s a repeat guitar line accompanied by some thematic horn work which builds as the journey goes on. The chanting background vox amplify the quest’s discovery element. For the bridge, the main theme slows down giving way to strings and horns giving a feel of revelation as the pyramid dissolves upward.
- Spiral Era opens with a drum role, with some cool guitar and synth backing. I probably think of Spiral Era as a roundabout way of getting to the ‘shrine’ next. This arrangement definitely has a dreamlike swirling sensation. It definitely feels like it would be appropriate in a Star Trek or Star Wars movie. The plucky guitar line coupled with the vibes is terrific. The sound is very rich, typical of Jaga sounding like more than the sum of its parts, and very orchestral.
- The Shrine ‘ alludes to Fela Kuti’s legendary Lagos venue according to the band. It starts with a haunting low end horn call featuring the bass clarinet, euphonium and trombone I believe. Then it launches into an electronic afrobeat rhythm heavy on percussion and synth. I envision this as the actual moment of arrival at the shrine. One aspect of Jaga that is always fun is the very primal nature of the sounds they produce. The middle of the tune is very heavy low end bass and percussion with some chanting. The second half is some fabulous full band playing reminiscent of Joe Zawinul when he was playing with the WDR Big Band. It’s quite an exalted passage into The Shrine. The horn blasts punctuating the theme are jaw rattling. This is definitely a high paced adventure that will shake the rafters. The ending sounds a bit like a refrain from Tomita and you know you’ve arrived.
- Apex kicks off with some multi synth work reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (Exorcist Theme) OR Kraftwerk from the 70s. But it’s totally up to date and futuristic. The pace difference between guitar and synth form a beautiful pattern. The key and volume change one third through are real headspace opening. Midway the bridge slows down to the drums, keys and synth in a percolating rhythm morphing into a super cool rollout back to the full band. For the finale, we’re at warp speed and cruising. Volume increase and the richness of he sound carries you away.
Although a tad short, Pyramid is a wonderful story and a fun listen throughout. I especially like the build from start to finish and it will definitely be on rotation in the next few months. You can preview and purchase the album here.
- Lars Horntveth: Guitars, pedal steel guitar, clarinets, saxophones, keyboards, synthesizers, vibraphone, piano and programming
Marcus Forsgren: Electric guitar and vocals
- Even Ormestad: Bass guitar
- Line Horntveth: Tuba, alto horn, euphonium, flute and vocals
- Erik Johannessen: Trombone and vocals
- Martin Horntveth: Drums, percussion and programming
- Øystein Moen: Synthesizers, clavinet and Hammond organ
- Andreas Mjøs: Vibraphone and chef