Skarkali Trio – Skarkali
(Ingi Bjarni Skúlason OBS001. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)
This Icelandic trio release from pianist/composer Ingi Bjarni Skúlason and colleagues can stand proudly amongst the finest of the current genre. Completed by bassist Valdimar Olgeirsson and drummer Óskar Kjartansson, the Skarkali Trio’s debut album Skarkali (translated, Loud noises) carries a depth of invention, verve and delicacy which sets it apart from any run-of-the-mill piano trio expectation.
Preconceptions happily disintegrate as this nine-track session unfolds, offering a measured blend of folksy, tuneful accessibility and sparky, creative unpredictability. Skúlason is a jazz piano graduate of FÍH Music School, Reykjavik, also having studied at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, Netherlands (amongst his teachers, Jasper Soffers and Aaron Parks). Founded as recently as 2013, the trio have performed at Reykjavik Jazz Festival, as well as in Norway and the Faroe Islands.
It’s easy to cite likely influences here (Brad Mehldau, Helga Lien, Tord Gustavsen, Esbjörn Svensson), yet there’s a boldness and a confidence about these attractive performances of Skúlason’s original compositions which suggest such comparisons are not especially important. Here is a band that darts along its own unexpected harmonic and melodic alleyways, resounds to refreshingly purposeful percussion, and dwells amongst crystalline pools of elevation – a balance which, throughout these 51 minutes, becomes increasingly magical.
Óskar Kjartansson’s fiery drumming is central to opening Virkar, and immediately there’s an awareness, amongst its almost Italianate, tuneful velocity, that these players are bursting with creativity; the contrast between this and slow, inquiring Fals ekki vals is quite affecting, as the romantic piano lead and Valdimar Olgeirsson’s prominent, lyrical bass establish perfect equilibrium. Á hálum ís (On thin ice) hits an energetic piano-and-bass groove, Skúlasson’s busy piano extemporisations matched by raining shards of percussive brightness, and Erfiðleikum gæddur possesses an anarchic, quirky character as lively, wrong-footing rhythms jostle with writhing, free expression – very effective indeed.
Hollands Spoor (perhaps inspired by The Hague’s main line railway station) bustles with individual displays of bravura, its sudden, snapping changes indicating great communication between these musicians; and the simple, held-back serenity of Hug mann allan is delightful, particularly Skúlason’s capricious harmonic shifts. Crisp, fluctuating details throughout Í innsta hring (In the inner circle) pleasingly exemplify the trio’s skills in striving for different colours and textures; similarly, the six and a half minutes of Smásagnasafn á repeat (Short stories on repeat) evolve boisterously and vagariously – all part of the strong pull of this recording. And to close, suitably-titled Heyra meira (Hear more), with its simple but exquisite tracery, leaves behind the hope that this classy trio will continue to explore and release new material in the future.