Given the depth of Jaga Jazzist's sophistication and their wide-ranging musical vision that encompasses everything from free jazz to hip-hop, from techno to funk, from rock to modern composition, this Norwegian ensemble is a natural partner for a collaboration with the internationally renowned Britten Sinfonia under the direction of Christian Eggen. The material was chosen from JJ's catalog (particularly from the One-Armed Bandit album, which they were touring in support of), and is beautifully arranged, performed, and recorded. While the lengthy treatment of "One-Armed Bandit" opens with strings, brass, and winds playing something that resembles a cadenza from one of the Sinfonia's namesake's symphonies, it quickly quiets down into the nearly pastoral for a few minutes before JJ enters with a persistent beat-head pulse, and the piece morphs into a symphonic, progressive jazz workout with a fantastic array of colors.
Jaga Jazzist, the Norwegian multi-instrumental boundary-busters, may occupy a niche, but it feels like an enduringly spacious and fertile one, where sounds that recall everything from Weather Report to big-band jazz, krautrock, Radiohead or even the Pat Metheny Group intertwine. Last year’s 20th anniversary retrospective was fascinatingly diverse, but Starfire – conceived in composer Lars Horntveth’s new Los Angeles home, rather than in Oslo – is a more densely layered and studio-dominated deployment of this band’s awesome resources. The title track is classic Jazzist: a sound like the Shadows driven by a marching-band thump skids through power-chord guitar hooks and Zappaesque melodic zigzags; the atmospheric Big City Music is a masterly balance of quickfire rhythm-section ingenuity and the instrumental diversity of guitars, keys and brass. The tunes remain quirkily dramatic and the thematic scene-shifting spectacular, but a little thinning-out would have let Jaga Jazzist’s uniquely mercurial music breathe more.