‘Constant Movement’ – Þorgrímur Jónsson Quintet

ConstantMovement

ICELANDIC JAZZ frequently delivers a jetstream of cool sophistication, somehow viewing things from a different perspective, whether through abstract impressionism or invigorating accessibility. The latter is certainly the case with new release Constant Movement from the Þorgrímur Jónsson Quintet.

Bassist Þorgrímur “Toggi” Jónsson (Þ = Th in Iceland’s alphabet) will be familiar to many as the backbone of pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs’ trio (current release, Cielito Lindo). But this is quite a different venture, his own ten originals brought to life with the help of a fine personnel: Ari Bragi Kárason (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ólafur Jansson (tenor sax), Kjartan Valdemarsson (piano, Rhodes) and Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson (drums).

Jónsson’s creative approach is multi-faceted, so there’s always a sense of something new at each turn – and that is manifested both in attention-grabbing musicality and playful whimsy. The imperturbable stride of Humble borders on easy-listening, but its catchy phrases and Ólafur Jónsson’s lazy tenor are irresistible; the same goes for cloudless Mountain View, whose purposeful, spring-in-the-step gait provides a platform for sublime, ascending flugel and sax riffs, with the clarity of Toggi Jónsson’s double bass momentum providing a steady pathway. Then, all at once, retro-pop-grooving In Berlin bursts through, a dazzling powerhouse of incisive Rhodes and trumpet improv underpinned by electric bass and metallic percussion (by now, there’s the realisation that this project must surely be a labour of love).

Somewhere between Stan Getz and trad jazz, From Above sedately floats down the river – you can almost smell sweet honeysuckle and feel the glinting sun’s warmth. The trumpet and tenor pairing of tijuana-style Eastern Time Zone is irresistible (again, Valdemarsson’s Rhodes explorations are deliciously fervid); and title track Constant Movement‘s irrepressible Puerto Rican beat, courtesy of Toggi Jónsson and Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson, feels like it might party all night long.

Crystalline acoustic piano in Hringrás invites restrained, hymnal expression from trumpet, sax and arco bass to a backdrop of shimmering cymbals; and Rotation‘s sumptuous, Latinesque swagger is emphasised by splendidly articulate bass and brazen, muted trumpet. A tongue-in-cheek whiff of ’60s comedy movie theme or Alan Moorhouse marching band might be imagined in horn-swooning Don’t Panic, though again it possesses characterful charm through its jabbing Rhodes, bass piano-string strikes and luxurious soloing; and Spiffy presents perhaps the most convivial, straight-ahead jazz of the recording.

This is undoubtedly good-time music with a sparkle in its eye, offering bags of interest fired by impassioned musicianship. In fact, a must-listen.

Released on 14 August 2016, Constant Movement is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Ari Bragi Kárason trumpet, flugelhorn
Ólafur Jónsson tenor saxophone
Kjartan Valdemarsson piano, Rhodes
Þorgrímur “Toggi” Jónsson acoustic bass, electric bass
Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson drums

Sunny Sky Records – Sunny Sky 736 (2016)

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‘Cielito Lindo’ – Sunna Gunnlaugs

Sunna

CARRIED ON A WARM, NORTHERLY BREEZE, Sunna Gunnlaugs’ previous trio release Distilled (2013) brought treasures aplenty from the pianist/composer’s native Iceland – a finely-crafted display of elegance, playfulness and imaginative free improvisation. Now, new album Cielito Lindo expands on those themes to deliver an hour-plus of 14 more engaging originals and arrangements, with bassist Þorgrímur (Toggi) Jónsson and drummer Scott McLemore.

What particularly appeals about the pianistic character of Sunna Gunnlaugs is her blend of influences which allude to Bill Evans’ and Bobo Stenson’s lyricism, yet also seem to incorporate the bright, tuneful openness of, say, Oscar Peterson and the kind of sparky, inquiring edge associated with Esbjörn Svensson. Title track Cielito Lindo has it all – opening, percussive rustlings and under-the-lid piano string shimmers unveiling Quirino Mendoza y Cortés’ charming, lilting Mexican melody upon which Gunnlaugs improvises with customary authority. Scott Lemore’s Compassion reveals the trio’s steady, delicate interaction with almost Bachian overtones; and the subtle bossa of the pianist’s own Endastopp becomes increasingly energized as it crackles to hard-edged drums and double bass.

The trio’s freely improvised ‘spin cycle’ thread continues, briefly punctuating the lengthier tracks with short settings Spin 8, 9 and 11 (maybe 10 is in the next load!) – and Dry Cycle communicates urgency through its high, ostinato piano chords, syncopated riff and memorable melody, followed by flamboyant improvisation. Seemingly obvious choice, Gershwin’s Summertime, is however reinterpreted beautifully, as fleeting snatches of the familiar strains are glimpsed through the mystery of skittering bass and drums; whilst amiable Workaround suggests e.s.t.’s blues-implied impudence.

Jónsson’s Vetrarstef possesses the yearning eloquence of a classic theme tune, its wintry folksiness occasionally redolent of acoustic Mike Oldfield; and Gunnlaugs’ Icelandic Blues snaps and crunches its way through seven glorious minutes which brim with smile-raising chromatic jollity, jaunty piano extemporisation and a thunderously percussive conclusion – a tour de force! Contrasting Tiltekt is exquisitely homely, its chiming melodies afforded the space to resonate; and All Agaze (another of McLemore’s gems) twists and turns unpredictably – ebullient grooving, yet with darker, Gustavsen-like moments. And to close… well, the songwriting of Tom Waits is frequently a source of jazz inspiration, and his Johnsburg, Illinois receives a faithful, picturesque outing from the trio, highlighting Waits’ penchant for a good melody.

Once again, Gunnlaugs and her trio achieve their discerning balance of tuneful accessibility, compositional distinctiveness and the constantly-undulating landscape of delicacy and high energy. A remarkable achievement – and a very fine album.

Released on Sunny Sky Records on 14 August 2015, Cielito Lindo is available at Bandcamp.

 

Sunna Gunnlaugs piano
Þorgrímur Jónsson double bass
Scott McLemore drums

sunnagunnlaugs.com

Sunny Sky Records – 733 (2015)