The cover of Jaga Jazzist’s One-Armed Bandit features an interchangeable set of slot-machine symbols, and the music inside offers truth in advertising. On the band’s fifth full-length—its first in five years—Norway’s premier experimental jazz nine-piece cycles through an ever-shifting barrage of styles that frequently delivers big payouts. Last time around, What We Must displayed a Jaga that ditched spazzier jabs and drum-and-bass leanings for sweeping compositions that split the difference between Tortoise and Broken Social Scene. The change marked an improvement in focus, but came at the cost of unpredictability and urgency. On One-Armed Bandit, those three vital elements achieve a glorious harmony.
Look no further than the album’s first song. A pulsing funk rumble buttresses baroque keyboard play, King Crimson-like flute, and heavy fuzz bass through several movements that don’t so much clash as take stylistic left turns. Even as the overarching flavor changes from track to track—“Bananfluer Overalt” adopts an ominous sort of tropicalia, while “Prognissekongen” releases its tension in a bout of stone-cold Lagos funk—Bandit stays fluid, building up to and out from its obvious centerpiece, “Toccata.” That nine-minute apex pays considerable homage to composer Steve Reich, delivering a constant rain of piano notes and chiming vibes that echo in a chamber filled by lurching horns. While the song is lengthy, it never loses its thrust or ability to captivate—and excepting a mismatched moment or two on “220 V / Spektral,” the same can be said for all of One-Armed Bandit.