#recentlistening – September 2018

 

AS THE SEASONS TURN, here’s a gladdening and varied clutch of new arrivals.
Follow the links below to sample/purchase.

4 albums

PhronesisWe Are All
Available at Edition Records/Bandcamp

Madeleine Peyroux – Anthem
Available at madeleinepeyroux.com

Sara ColmanWhat We’re Made Of
Available at Stoney Lane Records/Bandcamp

Agnar Már Magnússon & Lage Lund – Hending
Available at Dimma/Bandcamp

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‘Svif’ – Agnar Már Magnússon

agnar_svif

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

facebook.com/agnarmagnusson
IMX (Iceland Music Export)

Agnar Már Magnusson also appears on guitarist Andrés Thor’s 2016 quartet release, Ypsilon.

Dimma – DIM 72 (2016)

‘Ypsilon’ – Andrés Thor

andresthor

WITH NO INTENTION of sitting on the sidelines, Icelandic electric guitarist Andrés Thor and his impressive quartet serve up a compelling, hour-long set of varied originals in their latest release, Ypsilon.  

Perhaps it’s Thor’s formative musical discoveries – Hendrix, Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, and then Coltrane and Metheny – which inform the eclecticism of his compositional approach; but this nine-track outing with pianist Agnar Már Magnusson, bassist Richard Andersson and drummer Ari Hoenig fixes the attention, combining the eloquence of the guitar-led jazz tradition with a zesty, rock-imbued drive. The mellow fuzziness in Thor’s tonal palette is positively ambrosial, as is the precision of his technique, which reflects out into the rewarding richness of the overall sound (there’s certainly no sense of the leader showboating here, but rather an empathetic balance and clarity to every track).

Richard Andersson and Ari Hoenig together provide the band’s markedly rhythmic stability, identified in the purposeful groove of opening title track, Ypsilon, which sails blithely to guitar and piano improvisations. Across the entire album, the melodic partnership and individual improvisations of Andrés Thor and Agnar Már Magnússon are a joy, April‘s carefree journeyings coloured by warm, pedalled guitar textures and Hoenig’s incisive, ornamented cross-rhythms; and the openness of Zafón affords space for Andersson’s cantabile bass expression and Thor’s relaxed, Frisellian chromatics.

Cool, street-walking Biscuit displays the edginess of John Abercrombie as Magnússon’s hip, jabbing electric piano fuses with Thor’s grittier, rock resonance (each texturally supporting the other’s soloing). The almost insolent, lurching swing of Simple Question, with particularly elegant piano and guitar improv, is irresistible; an underlying pop-bass pulse brings a touch of George Benson ‘easy’ to Farmhouse; and the brooding, descending Andersson/Hoenig propulsion of Paw subtly evokes prog or even funk, as Thor combines effective repeated riffs with fluid extemporisations. Lush, late-night Snævi holds the poise of a Real Book classic, Magnússon’s luxurious chords impressionistically supporting Thor’s melodic sensitivity; and final track Oozy‘s sprightly, samba-like radiance also seems to have ‘jazz standard’ written all over it.

A pleasure to get to know this recording.

Released on 10 August 2016, Ypsilon is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Andrés Thor guitar, compositions
Agnar Már Magnússon piano, electric piano
Richard Andersson bass
Ari Hoenig drums

andresthor.com

Dimma – DIM 17 (2016)