IF PIANO TRIOS ever pass us by, like a fleeting breath of wind… I would dare to suggest that it’s because we’re not fully ‘in the zone’. For, although the classic format runs through contemporary jazz as a familiar, ever-flowing stream, it’s the individual, often intimate subtleties and nuances which make each experience distinct as they tumble, swirl and eddy in their own way.
The music of Icelandic pianist Agnar Már Magnússon elegantly typifies that notion in his latest album, Svif, with double bassist Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson and drummer Scott McLemore. Here are nine, original tracks which demand focus (so no point in simply relegating them to background ‘dinner jazz’); the reward being a fifty-minute immersion into a landscape which is as unpredictable as it is graceful.
‘Svif’ translates as ‘floating’, specifically in relation to air (alluded to in the cover art’s meteorological peculiarity, found in Iceland’s highlands) – and this very much informs the majority of the pianist’s compositions here, his balanced mastery of melody, harmony and rhythm expressing lightness and space, as well as vigour. The title track’s clear, tuneful hook (not unlike Tord Gustavsen) soon becomes memorable, even inviting, as Magnússon’s baroque-suggested mordents give way to bass-swung breeziness; and the subdued fog of Mistur is pictorialised by sifting brushes and wide, chordal searchings as Magnússon’s pellucid high lines rise out of the pervading vapour.
Sigurjónsson’s leaping bass invites a similar figure from Magnússon (redolent of Ivo Neame) in Sjúbbí Dú, an attractively boisterous number coloured enthusiastically by McLemore’s coruscating percussion; Sæmd (or decency) furtively meanders over its ever-present bass swell, perhaps reflecting the uncertainty of its political inspiration; and the open, wilderness experience of ballad Eyði is otherwise rich in luscious chords and displays an obvious connection between the three players. A rising turbulence in Ildi (another translation of ‘air’) might, especially through its repeated piano riffs, suggest e.s.t.; and the propulsion of Garri (translated by Magnússon as an irritating, high wind) is portrayed through high-energy piano runs and persistent chordal clusters, with McLemore buzzing at the kit.
Chromatically-rising Nitur (Nitrogen) is engagingly mysterious – and one can only begin to imagine the catalysis if Magnússon were to begin to explore the inside of his instrument, too. But to close, the pianist’s Stilla (“the melody just came to me”) exudes a keyboard calmness seemingly inspired by Chopin, Satie and perhaps Bach. Its tenderness and invention, through eloquent piano and bass solos, even subtly invokes the Modern Jazz Quartet – a beautifully measured conclusion to a classy piano trio album.
Svif is released on Icelandic label Dimma and available as a digital download at Bandcamp.
Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson double bass
Scott McLemore drums
Agnar Már Magnusson also appears on guitarist Andrés Thor’s 2016 quartet release, Ypsilon.
Dimma – DIM 72 (2016)