In my ever-constant evolution as a jazz lover, there are a lot of groups or artists that have caught my attention for a bit, only to have that attention wane as their music seemed less layered, less complex than I originally thought. (What can I say? I'm a perennial music dissector. It's just what I do.) For example, The Bad Plus was a great gateway drug into the world of three-piece-jazz-ensemble, but I'd rather listen to the Esbjörn Svensson Trio any day over them now. (RIP, Esbjörn.) There are others, however, who've had staying power in my pantheon of jazz listening - Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland . . .
Their albums have been (understandably) very highly regarded in the world of experimental jazz, and for good reason - few groups can honestly say they've evolved as musicians as drastically with each release as they can. Beginning back in 1994 as a cacophonous mix of jazz and electronica, their fourth effort What We Must is their most accessible to the casual listener - much of the esoteric has been stripped away in favor of a more rock-based, guitar driven sound that still pulsates with everything jazz.
It's as though the best post-rock outfit you've ever heard ran head-on into a jazz quartet, and dragged a keyboarder along for the ride - and it takes that many people to make this band function. A ten piece monstrosity, everything feels exactly in its place, and the soaring bits DO soar sky high, while the calm parts seethe with a hidden intensity.
What We Must very literally brought tears to my eyes the first time through, and has forever changed my perception of what jazz is and should be. I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds, but it remains true - I love every single second of this record. I don't care that it cost me thirty dollars to get the special edition with the bonus disc shipped over from Norway - it was worth every penny, and would have been worth a lot more, to be honest.
Final verdict: 5/5
This is what jazz was always meant to be - a constant reevaluation and revolution (and evidenced by Jaga Jazzist's new disc of this year, One-Armed Bandit - which is very nearly as good as What We Must - this is continuing for them as a group). It's dynamic, layered, effulgent, and one of the best records of the last decade. (My "10 favorite albums of all time" list is becoming more and more peppered with jazz, and I'm afraid this release would make said list.) Moreover, it's a great gateway drug for the rock-n-roll listener into the strange, beautiful world of experimental jazz.