For The Record [LIVE] by Jaggery: A Review
by Tom Steiger
Jaggery is a pretty standard, mainstream 5-piece rock outfit.
Except instead of a bass guitar they have an upright acoustic bass. Or, occasionally, a Moroccan sintir.
And instead of a lead guitar they have a viola.
And instead of a rhythm guitar they have a harp.
And their drummer is a jazz artist who likes to explore time signatures you’ve never heard of.
And their singer is a devotee of Voice Movement Therapy who can do things with her voice that do not sound entirely human – from soaring angelic beauty to demonic possession, often within a few bars.
And instead of rock they play the sort of intriguing sonic melange that one might expect from a jazz drummer and other-wordly singer backed by a viola, a harp, and a sintir.
Oh wait … Jaggery is nothing like a standard, mainstream 5-piece rock outfit.
While their songs do tend to have approachable, recognizable, hummable melodies, their orchestrations – the word seems justified by their eclectic instrumentation – are incredibly intricate and reward the careful listener with layer upon layer of sonic discoveries.
It often sounds as if each member is independently playing a prolonged solo that improbably meshes perfectly with all of the other solos. The standard musical functions – melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint – are all recognizable, but each is presented with an unexpected twist. It is sort of like listening to someone speak English with a beautiful foreign accent: you have to pay a little extra attention to keep track of what they’re saying, but the end result sounds more attractive and profound than normal every-day speech.
These musical veterans have released three full-length albums, two EPs, and several singles. But their latest effort is a 12-track live album called “For The Record [LIVE],” which was recorded during a single performance on June 12, 2014 at the Oberon theater in Cambridge, MA.
The selections provide a nice cross-section of Jaggery’s catalogue, and so the album serves as an excellent introduction to the band for the uninitiated. The band’s virtuosity is on full display: everything was captured live in one take and is nearly flawless. What’s more the quality of the recording – engineered by Ariel Bernstein – is such that it sounds like a studio album right up to the point where the audience applauds. And the inclusion of some inter-song banter from the band let’s their personality shine through.
The collection opens with “Icy,” which singer and band leader Mali Sastri wrote as part of a project called “Ten Paintings/Ten Songs” in collaboration with artist, director, and bon vivant Steven Bogart. Melodic synthed percussion draws the listener in and paves the way for Sastri’s gorgeous vocals while harpist Petaluma Vale provides beautiful harmony. This track showcases Sastri’s impressive vocal range, which is not simply a question of octaves. She is able to manipulate the tone and timbre of her voice to such an extent that the listener may be excused for believing there are actually 3 or 4 vocalists collaborating here.
If there were any doubt that this is not a run-of-the-mill album it is quickly dispelled with the opening to “War Cry” (Track 2). When Sastri unleashes the eponymous war cry it sounds like a cross between singing and ululation. Though most of the song is methodical and martial, the bridge is an incongruous neoclassical solo by violist extraordinaire and fashion icon Rachel Jayson.
The album careens through a vast thematic territory, from the straightforward beauty of “Come” (Track 7), through the manic energy of “O Scorpio” (Track 9), to the meditative minimalism of “Crux” (Track 10) with several fascinating stops in between.
Old standard and fan favorite “7 Stone” (Track 14) is given new life via an introduction consisting of a sintir solo accompanied by syncopated clapping, before launching into its familiar not-so-standard-after-all chaos in 5/5 time.
This thrilling performance comes to an appropriately triumphant conclusion with “Javelin” (Track 15), which is perhaps the most perfectly balanced piece in the set. Each member of the band is prominent without being dominant. Here they truly cease being individuals and play as a cohesive unit with that joyful effortlessness that can only ever be achieved through long hours of intense effort.