Jaga Jazzist | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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You have every reason to be skeptical of a jazz-electronica fusion, particularly one from the Ninja Tune label, which seems to specialize in goofy, frustratingly bland trip-hop. But Jaga Jazzist, a ten-piece Norwegian band led by composer Lars Horntveth, pulls it off: its music doesn't feel engineered or synthesized so much as happened upon. On the band's two Ninja Tune albums, A Livingroom Hush (2002) and The Stix (2003), it sounds a lot like its labelmate the Cinematic Orchestra, another group that combines instrumental compositions for a live ensemble with extensive postperformance editing and manipulation. But where the Orchestra relies on smoky atmosphere, often leaving its riffs hanging in midair until they dissolve, Jaga Jazzist keeps things moving. Both its records teem with ideas but never feel cluttered, and the textures are clean and bright but not cloying. Even Horntveth's composed melodies seem improvised: they grow sideways, elaborating on themselves without becoming repetitive or losing the kernel of the line. On "Animal Chin," the opening cut on Livingroom, a hyperactive breakbeat keeps sprinting off in odd directions a la Squarepusher, but the cool woodwinds and vibraphone that provide the song's hook make the fucked-up beat seem playful rather than stubborn and alienating. (It's become something of a hit thanks to its silly animated video, which casts the musicians as miniature wildebeests.) And on "Cinematic," a plaintive guitar figure titters in place while the rest of the band sproings apart like the innards of a defective watch. DJ Chris Widman opens. $12. Friday, July 2, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499.

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