CD: Lars Horntveth 'Pooka', The Wire, Jazzwise

The Wire August, Jazzwise August 2004

23/07/2004 :: It would be nice to believe that the Norwegian big band Jaga Jazzist operates as a kind of sprawling and unlikely democracy, and that their rousing fusions of jazz, electronica and post-rock emerge organically from the contributions of all ten regular members. The debut solo album from Jaga’s Lars Horntvedt, however suggests the reality is less idealistic.

Pooka is driven by an identical approach to melody and arrangement – at once stately and playful – as much of Jaga Jazzist’s work. 23 year old Horntvedt is clearly a key compositional force in the group, and so the bulk of Pooka sounds pretty much like their music played by a reconfigured emsemble. In place of Jaga’s massed horns, Hortvedt deploys a nine-piece string section. And where their rhytmic foundation is built on the exuberant powerhouse drumming of Horntvedt’s brother Martin, here the beats are exclusively electronic – a patchwork of flutter and  scrunch reminiscent of Kim Hiorthøy (who contributes the CD’s typiclly gorgeous sleeve art) or Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden.

Horntvedt’s deliberate orchestrations mark him out as a disciple of Gil Evans as much as Tortoise. While the strings rear and swirl, he solos undemonstratively in the foreground, flitting between clarinet (predominantly), acoustic guitar and saxophone, but never disrupting his own grand structures. As a result, some may find Pooka a little too tidy for comfort. Only a jolting edited guitar riff and some tougher beats on “1 Lesson In Violin” disrupt the warm, equable atmosphere pervading the album. Meticulous and higly engaging stuff, nevertheless, and a fine diversion until next Jaga Jazzist disc proper – set to be produced by Pluramon’s Marcus Schmickler – arrives next year.


(Three out of five stars)

Horntvedt contributes most of the charts to Jaga Jazzist, and quite how the band rely on his distinctive imagination is immediately clear from the title track, which because of his writing for eight strings, produces a distinctly soft focus version of the exuberant Jazzist, with Horntvedt’s characteristic ostinato figures contrasted by plaintive writing for clarinet leading and an abrupt right hand turn as the ensemble takes over pushing in new and unexpected directions. In place of brother Martin’s inspirational drumming, rhythms are generated electronically, again adding to this more subtle realization of Horntvedt’s highly individual writing skills. It is an intriguing album, part chillout, part soundtrack for a movie as yet unwritten that as it unfolds produces crafty moments of, if not quite surprise, then well crafted conceptualism that keeps you going back for more. Horntvedt has succeeded in creating his own sound signature that is immediately identifiable – no small feat this. Taken together with his two albums with Jaga Jazzist, Horntvedt is an emerging talent who we will clearly be hearing more from in coming years.

Stuart Nicholson / Jazzwise

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