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)

‘Passport’ – Omar Rahbany

passport

STAMPED with kaleidoscopic impressions from around the globe, Lebanese pianist Omar Rahbany’s Passport is a sumptuous fusion of jazz, orchestral and world music, presented by more than one hundred and eighty collaborators from twelve different nations.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released in the UK on 18 April 2017, Passport can be purchased at Amazon.
Audio samples and information at Omar Rahbany’s Facebook artist page.

 

Omar Rahbany piano, keyboards, additional bezok

Individual artists listed mostly in track-sequence appearance:
Ghada Nehme
vocals
Christopher Michael drums, Brazilian and miscellaneous percussion
Tony Dib accordion
Trad Trad clarinet
Steve Rodby acoustic bass
Raymond Hage percussion, Arabic percussion
Cuong Vu trumpet
Wayne Krantz electric guitar
Ali Madbouh ney, mezmar
Keith Carlock drums
Elie Afif electric bass
Andrew Hachem vocals
Faraj Hanna bezok, oud
Scott Harrell trumpets
Judy Lee horns
Timothy Albright trombones
Morris Kainuma tuba
Claud Chalhoub violin
Khachatur Savzyan double bass
Tom Hornig soprano saxophone
Nidal Abou Samra alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, trumpet
Karim Ziad drums
Jihad Assaad kanoon
Raed Boukamel ney
Jessy Jleilaty, Mirna Ileilaty Abdo, Andree Dib female chorus
Simon Obeid, Nader Khoury, Elie Khayat, Gilbert Jalkh, Tony Azar male chorus
Loyal El Mir vocals
Rami Maalouf flute
José Fernandez guitar
Alain Makdessi electric guitar

The Kiev City Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko
Members of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra
additional strings

omarrahbany.com

Rahbany Yahya Productions (2017)