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)

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‘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)

‘The Pauper & the Magician’ – Ari Hoenig

AriHoenig

IT APPEARS that US drummer and composer Ari Hoenig’s creativity isn’t confined to the stage and the recording studio. His mostly original music on this eighth release as leader, The Pauper & the Magician, is inspired by the improvised stories he tells to his two small children – specifically, a tale of “a powerful, dark sorcerer who, in a moment of weakness and boredom, passes on his book of evil magic to a pauper.”

Part of the New York scene for almost twenty years, Philadelphia-born Hoenig has contributed to the line-ups of Joshua Redman, Chris Potter and Mike Stern (to name but a few) and has appeared with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Gerry Mulligan. His colleagues on this quintet recording are guitarist Gilad Hekselman, tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Shai Maestro and bassist Orlando le Fleming.

Hoenig’s musical storytelling here is dynamically potent, possessing a distinct aura of fable and mysticism characterised by his propulsive prog-tinged writing and the band’s colourful jazz improvisations; and the drummer’s own ornamented techniques impressively bind the multifarious elements together without dominating. Indeed, the album’s five ‘chapters’ (along with an affectionate, closing ‘goodnight kiss’ track) are spacious enough to slowly unravel their mysterious, shifting storylines. Thus, opening title track The Pauper & the Magician, at almost ten minutes’ duration, weaves a downward-spiralling motif, as if descending into an unknown kingdom, buoyed by mischievously-dancing tenor and piano, Hekselman’s subtle wah-wah rhythms and Hoenig’s perpetually intricate percussion.

I’ll Think About It‘s initial sprightliness conjures big-band swing, though all the while the adventure twists and turns through darker, searching passageways, only to be illuminated again by the strong daylight of rippling piano, jaunty sax-and-guitar riffs and the indubitable flair of Hoenig’s crisp execution. Central to these 46 minutes is the eastern-inflected drama of The Other, its edge-of-seat energy glinting with rapid jazz brilliance. Here, Shai Maestro’s effusive piano dances over the flamboyance of bass and drums as Hekselman and Pennicott share complex, whirling lines; and the relentless anthemic progression confirms the album’s folktale basis.

The particular echoic delicacy of Gilad Hekselman’s guitar style is to the fore in Lyric – a calming jazz interlude whose tender melody (redolent, at times, of Weather Report) is embellished by Pennicott’s tenor phrasing, yet also punctuated by snappy rhythmic flashes from Hoenig’s precise, multi-timbred battery; and Alana is similarly luxurious, Pennicott’s pellucid piano and the measured vibrato of Pennicott’s tenor providing an end-of-journey feel-good. And that ‘goodnight kiss’? Well, Jimmie Davis’ familiar You Are My Sunshine (which might otherwise feel incongruous) cheerily plays out amidst Hoenig’s softly-malleted kit and a generally jaunty jazz demeanour until ‘lights out’.

By turns dramatic and ambrosial, it’s to be hoped that Ari Hoenig might reveal further jazz chronicles of this calibre. Released on 26 February 2016 (in the UK and Ireland, through Lyte Records), The Pauper & the Magician is also available, as CD or download, via links at Ari Hoenig’s website.

 

Ari Hoenig drums
Gilad Hekselman guitar
Tivon Pennicott tenor saxophone
Shai Maestro piano
Orlando le Fleming bass

arihoenig.com

Lyte Records – LR036 (2016)