Psychedelic electro space jazz
The first album since 2015’s Starfire, the Norwegian electrojazz octet, Jaga Jazzist, released their ninth full-length LP, Pyramid, in August. Comprised of four highly intricate longform tracks, Pyramid is less a musical album and more an all-engrossing voyage through a weird space of electricized jazz and space psychedelia. One member, Lars Horntveth, describes it as “a small symphony, each part containing its own rooms to explore.” That’s no understatement. It’s replete with capricious but coordinated movement, and all the complexity and splendor of a symphonic production.
“Tomita” begins as the longest of the four. It oozes soft, velvety sax and these glittery star showers that pop off to fill the pauses. The song slowly snowballs, some choral synths rise in with the tropical percussion and a guitar whose riffs resemble Tame Impala. Eventually, some muted string strums saunter in and guide the song into an instrumental jubilee, full of color and panache. The base is still faintly there after all other layers of sound fell onto its original contours, continually flowering out of something that seemed completely used up. A diminuendo levels the energy into a lull, stereophonic sounds filtering in, out and through Blade-Runner-esque synths and an inoculated guitar.
The next track, “Spiral Era,” starts with percussive patter. They turn away from the jazziness of the last track in this one and play out into the field of psychedelia. There’s wordless vocalizing, synth arpeggios and a catchy baritone-guitar riff that’s simple and ever-ascending. It’s something like a soundtrack of a virtual tour of a hyperfuturistic utopian resort a couple hundred light years south of Venus. It could function as the LP’s interlude, it has a sort of forgettable aural architecture.
“The Shrine” brings the jazz back and trades out the vapid interlude for some exotica. Hand drums and bongos beat in the back as the tin-like warp and whimper of a sax goes on. A misty, refracted guitar bombinates between a duo of synchronized bass and low-toned piano, then it gets all big-band-swing style that’s also slightly pixelated and broken up, glitchy and buffering. Then all the instruments go mad in a Dionysian mania. The bridge, calming the listen a little, acts as a breath-break to gather some air before the next overwhelming wave of a multi-instrumental din debouches.
In the last track of the four-piece, “Apex,” the tippy-top vertex is met, this is the sound of summiting that ancient shape. This one has a dance beat to it, it’s more rhythmic. An arpeggio is established and all else forms around it: everything starts to unspool, becoming more complex as it clarifies through cut-off and becomes more distinct as a guitar endows structure to the stream of sound. The octave fluctuates, and a bass-toned arpeggio emerges from the main layer as a bridge to an ante-upped final movement that bursts out, erumpent and zigzagging intractably.
Although Pyramid sounds extremely complex and strenuously wrought out, it only took two weeks. What’s more, the band isolated themselves in a woodland studio in Sweden, churning out 12-hour days of recording in their asylum while also refraining from the impulse to “over-analyze every musical idea,” but rather, “to follow the first and original idea and keep the freshness” says co-founder and drummer Martin Horntveth on their bandcamp page. Jaga Jazzist makes it sound automatic…and it is.