Jaga Jazzist (Esplanade, Singapore, 13 March 2007)

Before Tuesday’s Jaga Jazzist gig I’d listened to their albums now and then over the years but often found myself zoning out and switching to catchier stuff. Experimental jazz just doesn’t push my buttons the way squalling guitars or hip-hop beats do. But when choosing which Mosaic gigs to go for I had a hunch that they’d sound better live than they do in my bedroom, so I took the risk – and damn, if all risks we take in life could yield such amazing payoffs I’d be a self-made stock market trillionaire and spend my free time snowboarding nude down Everest.

You might think a band in love with the sound of their own music would be off-putting but Jaga Jazzist’s unadulterated joy in their performance is absolutely infectious. So many bands’ live shows end up somewhere near either end of the spectrum between pure technical finesse and pure showmanship – Jaga Jazzist simply show up at the sweet spot representing the perfect combination of both and live there the whole gig. They play tighter together than any philharmonic orchestra I’ve ever seen, but unlike any philharmonic orchestra I’ve ever seen they love having the audience clap along.

You know how on reality TV when people are imploring the viewers to vote them into the next round, they always promise they’ll give “200%” in order to improve and blah blah blah? Most people just say stuff like that without really thinking about it, but the Jaga Jazzist gig was like a live demonstration of what it should mean. After each song you can’t believe they still have the strength to continue. I’d assumed their rambunctious drummer/conductor/spokesperson was just trying to put on a good show for the start of the gig but would have to wind down his efforts soon enough to conserve energy. Instead, I think he only got more ebullient as the night wore on. As someone who’s played in an orchestra I can definitely tell you that long instrumental pieces are way more tiring than they might seem from the audience, and I only played the damn violin!

The highlight of the gig for me was the song Oslo Skyline, which they “renamed” Singapore Skyline for the night. It was a showcase of everything that had blown the audience away during the gig – their individual virtuosity, their breathtaking co-ordination as an ensemble, and the amazing light design (it had been really beautiful throughout the gig but reached its nadir here). It was one of the most memorable moments of live music I have ever had the privilege of experiencing, and earned an instantaneous and universal standing ovation.

If you think I’m veering into hyperbole, the truth is that any purely verbal description anyone could give of this gig would actually be an understatement. If you were there, I’m sure you understand what I mean. If you weren’t, beg, borrow or steal to make sure you watch them the next opportunity you get. You don’t need to like their music beforehand – I certainly didn’t, and I can’t even begin to imagine what this gig must have been like for someone who was already a big fan of their sound – as long as you love any music at all, just turn up and I truly believe they’ll do the rest.