TOP 12 OF 2020

DISTILLING a year’s music into just a few highlights isn’t easy! But during 2020, when (perhaps for all of us) emotions have been unpredictable, the wonderful creativity of much-valued jazz artists, alongside classical and folk interests, has been instrumental in ‘holding it together’. So, below are a dozen reviewed albums that I have frequently returned to for solace, for joy, for introspection, for escapism, and to accompany an eventual reacquaintance with ‘the great outdoors’. Presented in no particular order, I encourage you to follow the links to sample, purchase and enjoy these treasures.

Season’s greetings. Stay safe.

🎹 AP

Going Down The Well – MoonMot
Dee Byrne, Simon Petermann, Cath Roberts, Oli Kuster, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 February 2020 (Unit Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/02/13/going-down-the-well-moonmot/

Tributes – Marius Neset
Marius Neset, Danish Radio Big Band conducted by Miho Hazama
Release date: 25 September 2020 (ACT Music)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/22/review-tributes-marius-neset/

By And By – Graham South Quartet
Graham South, Richard Jones, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 18 September 2020 (Efpi Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/18/review-by-and-by-graham-south-quartet/

Tenacity – Django Bates
Django Bates, Petter Eldh, Peter Bruun, Norbotten Big Band
Release date: 2 October 2020 (Lost Marble)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/30/review-tenacity-django-bates/

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/05/08/rickety-rackety-martin-pyne-quartet/
(see also Spirits of Absent Dancers)

Mór – Agnar Már Magnússon
Agnar Már Magnússon, Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson, Matthías Hemstock, Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun, Frank Hammarin, Nimrod Ron
Release date: 1 September 2020 (Dimma)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/05/review-mor-agnar-mar-magnusson/

While Looking Up – Jimmy Greene
Jimmy Greene, Reuben Rogers, Kendrick Scott, Aaron Goldberg, Lage Lund, Stefon Harris
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Mack Avenue)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/03/30/while-looking-up-jimmy-greene/

Another Kind of Soul – Tony Kofi
Tony Kofi, Andy Davies, Alex Webb, Andrew Cleyndert, Alfonso Vitale
Release date: 24 April 2020 (The Last Music Company)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/04/23/another-kind-of-soul-tony-kofi/

Flow – Maria Chiara Argirò + Jamie Leeming
Maria Chiara Argirò, Jamie Leeming
Release date: 16 October 2020 (Cavalo Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/12/review-flow-maria-chiara-argiro-jamie-leeming/

Totem – Ferdinando Romano
Ralph Alessi, Tommaso Iacoviello, Simone Alessandrini, Nazareno Caputo, Manuel Magrini, Ferdinando Romano, Giovanni Paolo Liguori
Release date: 24 April 2020 (Losen Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/05/04/totem-ferdinando-romano-feat-ralph-alessi/

High Heart – Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel, Shai Maestro, Gerald Clayton, Michael Mayo, Joe Sanders, Nate Wood
Release date: 30 October 2020 (Edition Records)
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/10/26/review-high-heart-ben-wendel/

Humble Travelers – Floating Circles Quartet
Aidan Pearson, Matt Hurley, Jonny Wickham, Arthur Newell, Johanna Burnheart
Release date: 12 September 2020
Review and purchasing link:
https://ap-reviews.com/2020/09/10/review-humble-travelers-floating-circles-quartet/

REVIEW: ‘Mór’ – Agnar Már Magnússon

MUSIC IS NOTHING if it doesn’t elicit a response (any response) from us; and it’s no embellishment to say that Mór, this new septet recording from established Icelandic pianist Agnar Már Magnússon, first arrested my attention in an unexpected, emotive fashion – so much so, that it has since been listened to repeatedly.

2016 album Svif revealed a classy piano trio of unpredictability and grace, melding folk-styled homeyness with an oblique jazz sensibility. However, this latest project elevates Magnússon’s creativity into a more expansive range. Perhaps unusually, he partners his trio (completed by double bassist Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson and drummer Matthías Hemstock) with four brass players from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra – French hornists Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun, Frank Hammarin and tubist Nimrod Ron. The resulting textural weave available to him, as arranger and composer, clearly brings much to these new expressions of traditional Icelandic folksong, bookended by two of Agnar’s own pieces.

In jazz piano terms, subdued hues of Tord Gustavsen or Esbjörn Svensson may be discernable; but there’s something else at work here, likely to be influenced by the culture and subarctic environment of the artists’ Nordic homeland. These are exquisitely crafted and blended sounds – often restrained, searching, even solemn – and for those reasons, their measured route into a receptive mind can feel almost spiritual.

The horn section’s significance, and a beautiful sense of enfoldment, is heard in opening title track Mór – a slow, Bachian trio chorale gradually infiltrated by their closely-harmonized rise and fall; and Magnússon’s skilful, sometimes unanticipated chordal changes even suggest shadowy, filmic drama. But Blastjarnan’s melancholy shifts into the ensemble’s ‘alter ego’ – an attractive, rhythmic persona to support Agnar’s pellucid improvisation and the horns’ subtle underpinning of its recurring three-note motif. These are certainly melodies and phrases which stay in the memory, now welcomed each time they are heard. In gradually-ascending Hliðskjálfs sjóla haukur rólið missti dfnn and Ísaspöng af andans hyl (‘An iceberg from the abyss’) there are hints of the precise sound world of e.s.t., the latter coloured by alluring bass resonances and waves of brass.

Softly dissonant medieval horns announce Almáttugur guð allra stétta sdbsggn, a lively, percussively-ornamented modal exploration, while sunlight breaks through onto the landscape with the free-flowing, pirouetting piano melodies of Modir Islands. In fact, there’s the impression of Agnar ‘receiving’ his extemporisations from a ‘higher’ source and instantly relaying them, with care and rubato, to the keyboard – as in Grafskrift Sæmundar Klemenssonar, and also in the choice chordal meshes of Ísland farsælda frón.

The final, four-minute work, I find the most affecting of all – Magnússon’s Svordur. Led by solo horn, then gradually joined by the full section and piano trio, it possesses incredible longing and humanity; a kind of Purcellian majesty along the lines of ‘When I Am Laid in Earth’, with a reassurance that ‘all will be well’. This is undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of new music I have heard amidst this troubled year.

For its imaginative musical symbiosis, with a profound ability to move the soul, Mór is fervently recommended.

Released 1 September 2020, the CD can be purchased through email addresses shown at the websites of Agnar (agnarmagnusson@gmail.com) and label Dimma (dimma@dimma.is), or as a download from Bandcamp.

 

Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson double bass
Matthías Hemstock drums

Stefán Jón Bernharðsson French horn
Asbjörn Ibsen Bruun French horn
Frank Hammarin French horn
Nimrod Ron tuba

agnarmagnusson.com

Dimma – DIM 87 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Paradox’ – Andrés Thor

A SUBTLE ‘white album’ cover reflects one of the key attributes of this latest release from Icelandic guitarist/composer Andrés Thor and his quartet with pianist Agnar Már Magnússon, double bassist Orlando Le Fleming and drummer Ari Hoenig.

Though a cursory listen might indicate familiar, four-piece jazz territory, the nine original tracks of Paradox (the follow-up to 2016’s Ypsilon) offer levels of light and clarity not always so prominent in a guitar-led quartet. The coupling of Már Magnússon’s picturesque piano and Thor’s chordal/melodic sensitivity (with warm tremulant) easily visualises open, breathing landscapes; and together, Le Fleming and Hoenig work to provide a crisp, refractional foundation to this cognitively-themed album’s whole.

Eden ripples with sunlight as Thor’s agile-yet-unhurried improvisations meander up and down, through imagined woodland glades, attuned to the quartet’s shared, gentle finesse; and although pacier, Quantum still allows bright diffractions to filter through onto its purposeful path. The guitarist’s eloquence is emphasised in his precise, self-accompanied prelude to Tvísaga, while coolly-swinging 8.J.L. feels especially balanced across the ensemble; and sidewalk-strutting Schrödinger’s Cat certainly teems with snare-accentuated life. Both Dal and the bluesy shuffle of Avi are exquisitely measured, offering room for pondering solos, and there’s beautiful, positive luminosity in bass-riffed Under Stars and the 55-minute set’s concluding title track.

Paradox has been out there for a few months, but the freshness and detail in this studio recording from Brooklyn, New York, is a treat.

Released on 5 April 2019 and available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Andrés Thor guitar, composition
Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Orlando Le Fleming double bass
Ari Hoenig drums

Dimma – DIM 82 (2019)

RECENT LISTENING: January 2020 (1)

Live In Paris at Fondation Louis Vuitton – Elliot Galvin
Elliot Galvin – solo piano
Release date: 24 January 2020 (Edition Records)
elliotgalvin.bandcamp.com

Going Down The Well – MoonMot
Dee Byrne, Simon Petermann, Cath Roberts, Oli Kuster, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 February 2020 (Unit Records)
moonmot.bandcamp.com

four forty one – Will Vinson
Will Vinson, Sullivan Fortner, Tigran Hamasyan, Gerald Clayton, Fred Hersch, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Matt Brewer, Matt Penman, Rick Rosato, Larry Grenadier, Obed Calvaire, Billy Hart, Eric Harland, Clarence Penn, Jochen Rueckert  
Release date: 31 January 2020 (Whirlwind Recordings)
willvinson.bandcamp.com

– The Gaz Hughes Sextet plays Art Blakey
Gaz Hughes, Alan Barnes, Bruce Adams, Dean Masser, Andrzej Baranek, Ed Harrison
Release date: 1 February 2020
gazhughes.bandcamp.com

Ascent – Pablo Held
Pablo Held, Robert Landfermann, Jonas Burgwinkel, Nelson Veras with Veronika Morscher, Jeremy Viner
Release date: 7 February 2020 (Edition Records)
pabloheld.bandcamp.com

Paradox – Andrés Thor
Andrés Thor, Agnar Már Magnússon, Orlando Le Fleming, Ari Hoenig
Release date: 5 April 2019 (Dimma)
andresthor.bandcamp.com

‘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)