Five years after their highly acclaimed album What We Must, Jaga Jazzist have taken somewhat of a left turn with their highly awaited follow up. In One-Armed Bandit's (the collective's fifth album) press release, one member described the music as "Zappa influenced, humorous prog rock," which is quite well realized in several places here, particularly in its odes to the band's influences. A lot of their best playing yet has been brought out as well, and the result is an incredibly technical album that, while a bit harder to take in than their previous works, is nearly every bit as rewarding.

One-Armed Bandit has a dizzying business to it, but it's more fascinating than alienating. There are several unusually memorable melodies strewn about (for fusion, anyway), and the musicianship is predictably spectacular. The heavily Frank Zappa flavored title track starts things off, decorated with a dancing harpischord and clarinet, with more layers gradually tossed on, sporting melodies incredibly akin to Peaches en Regalia. In fact, there's a lot of reference here; Toccata begins reminiscent of Philip Glass and ends sounding like Steve Reich, with a rather minimalist beginning soon morphing into something more dramatic with booming brass, intensifying percussion, and skittering horns carrying it all along. This isn't to say that they're nothing more than reference, as that is more a pushing off point than anything else. Each song's dramatic build up takes the listener to several places, particularly One-Armed Bandit with a charming video game bleeping in the midst of all the fusion madness around the middle mark.

Banafleur Overalt is pure Jaga Jazzist though, carrying an avant garde sound that is dominated with groove, and displaying a progressing musicianship without ever sacrificing that certain catchiness it has. 220 V/Spektral follows in suit, but with layers piling on a bit faster, adding guitars and synths into the mix, eventually climaxing with a heavy rock blowout. Toccata (an outstanding track) slows things down a bit, taking its time to develop and giving each section sufficient breathing room, and simultaneously making it easier for the listener to keep up.

After that, though, the group goes right back to trying to piling on sounds faster than before, and it culminates in some moments that are flat out inaccessible initially. Prognissekongen, namely, is an absolute beast - the first minute alone is inundated with so many melodies all at once that it's pretty overwhelming on first listen, and that's without taking into account the incredible technical skill on display as well. It's definitely challenging, and takes quite a few listens to really digest - it feels like it has more than enough material to last for a good ten minutes, what with all that's going on, and yet it's all crammed into four and a half. This is probably the only song on One-Armed Bandit that will inspire more respect than actual enjoyment, but it's still a fascinating listen nonetheless.

Book of Glass and Music! Dance! Drama! are more straight forward tracks, especially coming after Prognissekongen. Glass has a flow more akin to post-rock, which gives it the familiar sound of the tracks found on What We Must, and Music has a great heavy rock feel it it, which really takes hold of the song in the guitar break around three minutes in. Touch of Evil finishes the album on an appropriately dramatic note, adopting the frenetic display of melodies heard earlier with Overalt and Spektral, teasing through the middle with a pounding rock segment that grows in length until the song's organ and horn led peak.

One-Armed Bandit hardly finds Jaga Jazzist at their most accessible, or even their most subtle. It's very heavy, with incredible performances and bombastic songwriting, but also highly impressive attention to detail and numerous catchy melodies. It's not the band's best, but a good album from musicians this talented is still a good album, and it serves as a great reminder of all the places that fusion can go when so inclined.

robert glasper double booked

Some of you don’t know what the meaning of “Slept On”  is, so the easy way to say it is with this latest release of musical genius (and newest member of the Soulquarians, I can pretty much say) Robert Glasper and his crew. These guys have been slept on for years now, and have brought us exuberant tracks, such as their cover of Radiohead’s Everything In It’s Right Place.

But today, we have Robert Glasper’s newest release; a two disc album entitled Double Booked.  Hailing from the syrup capitol of the world, this Houston born jazz monster brings forth talent and creativity that I believe has been missing in my collection of off the wall versions of the genres many artists represent. Blue Note Records have been putting out great albums for decades (Art Blakey, Miles Davis, and Sonny Clark just to name a few) now, and this year is going to be another heavy hitter.

Disc one is The Robert Glasper Trio, comprised of Robert, Vicente Archer on bass, and Chris Dave on the drums; while disc two feature the The Robert Glasper Experiment comprised of Robert, Derrick Hodge on the bass, Chris Dave again on drums, with Casey Benjamin bring the sax and vocoder to the table. These guys are all top notch, and what I would like to classify as The Mars Volta of jazz.

I loved the feel of the album, with both discs starting with a phone call. The first is with Terrence Blanchett, who talks business about confirming the trio coming through to his club to play. The other is with Questlove (aka Questso, aka Amir) of The Roots asking the Experiment to come play at the Highline with them, Mos Def, and Bilal. Let it be said that all those aforementioned people are part of the Soulquarians…I’m just saying.

robertglasper

Let’s get into the best tracks of this release with spoiler alert: one of the tracks being on my list of the best tracks of the year. We runnin’ this, let’s go.

No Worries, the second track on the first disc gives that feel of being in the audience, with the announcer introducing the group, and giving a round of applause before kicking into a smooth groove. I felt like the piano would subtly spill over the track, as a classy glass of brandy spills over the lip. Truth be told though, I felt the urge to do the Pee Wee Herman dance around the room, or get down like Bill Cosby at the beginning of his show. It began slowly and all the instruments picked up energy throughout the middle, before settling down to land like a feather and fading out.

I got a hip hop infused vibe after the wild piano intro of track six on the first disc, Think of One. This one was very easy to nod your head too, with silly piano breakdowns throughout the song. There were also lingering moments and jazz heavy bass fills to keep the song softly afloat, before returning to its heavier moments of hip hop beat formation.

On disc two; after checking his messages and doing a sound check with Mos Def, the Experiment does an excellent cover of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly for their second track. The original framework was kept, along with the eerie voice manipulation; but new is the insane drum work of Chris Dave, tearing the song to shreds several times over.

The most psychedelic track award goes to Festival, the third track on the second disc. The song is literally everywhere. Some parts are slow and jazzy, other parts pure insanity. Casey Benjamin tears it up throughout the middle of the track, and even has a badass solo near the six minute mark. I loved the idea of everyone breaking away to do their own thing in the track, then coming together again to match notes with drum hits.

As always, I saved the best track for last. Neo soul expert Bilal joins up with the experiment to give us a life lesson in the song All Matter. The lyrics stick in my head when I think about defining love, and may even be…dare I say, inspirational? Anywho, the bass in this song floats along gently the entire time, staying on the low end most of the time, with the piano being played by Glasper in what has to be one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time.

Bilal is a true talent, and this track brought out new appreciations for him. While slight, the drum work from 3:13 to 3:18 is the part of the song I rewind back through the most. It’s so good; you can even hear someone in the background mutter at how fresh it was, during this perplexing mid-song segment. This intense track easily catapulted itself into my list of the best songs of the year; just give it time and you’ll agree.

Robert Glasper did it again, with a refined power unlike anything I have heard in the jazz world. Originality seems fewer and farther between these days, but with this dual album, I feel like the world will wake up off one of the most talented musicians that have ever been slept on.

Robert Glasper’s Double Booked hits stores today, and I will file this under the must have albums of the year for you music aficionados out there. I’ve had the album quite some time thanks to Cem K. at EMI, and couldn’t wait to get this one out there for you all.

Until next my friends, just remember, it’s all matter,

~Flak