CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Ingi Bjarni Trio – Fundur

Ingi Bjarni Trio – Fundur
(Dot Time Records DT9079. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Icelandic pianist and composer Ingi Bjarni Skúlason’s 2015 album, Skarkali, was released under the name of the Skarkali Trio. Now continuing as the Ingi Bjarni Trio, he and colleagues Bárður Reinert Poulsen (double bass) and Magnús Trygvason Eliassen (drums) explore eight more of the pianist’s originals in Fundur (translated: ‘a finding/discovery’ or ‘to have found something’).

Their sense of musical epiphany is described by Skúlason as “our own kind of folk music with the freedom of expressiveness and space for both lyrical and free improvisation”. And yes, as before, the trio’s sometimes spacial sound might reflect the wide, unhindered panoramas found in their northern homelands of Iceland and the Faroe Islands. But they are also often strongly (even thrashingly) rhythmic. So although achieving prominence in the acoustic jazz piano trio arena can be a challenge, here the co-ordination of propulsion, contemplation and memorable hook is delivered with panache to a receptive ear.

Ingi Bjarni’s compositional prowess is very much part of his signature. Title track Fundur illustrates this with a solid, sparky motif which tumbles away in close synchronisation with bass and drums at the end of the phrase; but then it opens up, affording each player the freedom to project their own personality onto the piece. Quieter moments could invite similarities with others, say Tord Gustavsen, yet the searching free spirit of this trio, heard in Hlaupa burtu (or ‘run away’), sets it apart. Þóf (translation: ‘arduous task’) is sinewy, with Poulsen’s bass harmonics sounding almost electronic before hitting a decidedly e.s.t.-like piano-fifths groove; but then they’re off again into a chirpy, almost showtime melody. It’s unpredictability such as this that holds the attention.

Snúður, an affectionately-felt ballad dedicated to the pianist’s late grandfather, features a gentle conversation between double bass and piano, while fidgety and snappy S306 – with Eliassen’s refractory drumming reminiscent of Anton Eger’s – is hard-wrought by Skúlason, his physical improvisations on the keys audibly vocalised. A despairing, perplexed air in Trump Waltz gives way to angsty free expression – arco-bass scrapes, lashing percussion and panicky high piano – before regrouping in syncopated defiance. Many-hued Sakna norðurljósa (translated as ‘missing the northern lights’) offers gentle melodies contrasted with elaborate rhythms and hiatuses; and folksong is intimated through the dark, pensive meanderings of Mars.

Ingi Bjarni Skúlason’s creativity is to be admired, and his bassist and drummer have clear empathy with his writing. This is emotionally-conceived piano trio music to focus on and savour – an engaging ‘fundur’, for sure.

The album is released this Friday 7 September 2018.

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