Icelandic pianist Ingi Bjarni brings his trio to the UK next month, with a London date at Kansas Smitty’s among the tour dates. Adrian Pallant wrote of the trio’s 2018 release Fundur: “This is emotionally-conceived piano trio music to focus on and savour – an engaging ‘fundur’, for sure.” And about a previous release Skarkali: “This Icelandic trio release from pianist/composer Ingi Bjarni Skúlason and colleagues can stand proudly amongst the finest of the current genre.”
Rob Adams found out more about Bjarni in an emailed Q&A:
LondonJazz News: What attracted you to playing piano and how and when did you get started as a pianist?
Ingi Bjarni: I had classical piano lessons as a kid, on and off, but these lessons didn’t resonate strongly with me. In fact, my skills in classical piano playing are still rather limited up to this day. I discovered jazz mainly through the internet, and that was when my real interest in playing the piano began. This resulted in having jazz piano lessons and going to a lot of jazz concerts.
I decided quite late that I wanted to become a musician. I remember the exact moment quite vividly. I was 20 years old and at the time I was studying mathematics at the University of Iceland. On a rainy November morning, I parked in front of the university. A lecture about mathematical analysis was about to start. There I sat and thought: ‘What am I doing with my life? I am not a mathmatician, I am a musician!’ I just drove home and started playing the piano. I am happy it only took me three months – and not a lifetime – to fully realise that I wanted to be a musician.
LJN: Did you play any other instruments before you took up piano?
IB: No, not on a regular basis. But when I was around eight or nine years old I remember improvising on an old melodica my mother owned. I was running around the apartment with this melodica – dancing, jumping and improvising melodies, my playing full of emotion. I was playing simple melodies of course, and I did not have any technique. I was improvising, though, and I just really enjoyed playing music and making melodies on the spot. I enjoyed creating, uninhibited and free!
This was, of course, long before I started to study jazz music and I didn’t even know what jazz or improvisation was at the time. I am very fond of this memory, and for me it’s very important to remember it.
LJN: Was there a particular pianist who made you think, I really want to play jazz piano?
IB: Particularly, it was seeing and hearing the music of Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett that ignited the spark for playing the piano.
LJN: How did you meet/choose the musicians for your trio?
IB: For my concerts in the UK, I will be playing with Valdimar Olgeirsson on bass and Óskar Kjartansson on drums. They played on my first trio album, Skarkali (2015). I met them while studying in FÍH School of Music in Reykjavík. This trio played at Nordic Jazz Comets, Reykjavík Jazz Festival and more.
The trio on my latest trio recording, Fundur (Losen, 2018), is different and consists of Bárður Reinert Poulsen on bass and Magnús Trygvason Eliassen on drums. This trio formation began as an Icelandic / Faroe Islands collaboration project since me and Magnús are from Iceland and Bárður is from the Faroe Islands. We played concerts in Faroe Islands and Iceland, and then I decided I wanted to make a trio record with them. This trio has performed at Reykjavík Jazz Festival and at Jazzahead (clubnight) in Bremen.
LJN: How do you compose and when you compose for the group, do you work with these musicians’ sounds and personalities in mind?
IB: I mainly compose intuitively. That is, I don’t sit down to compose intentionally. Often I am just improvising on the piano, or even humming a melody away from the piano, and then I record ideas I like on my smartphone. These ideas often stay on my phone for months until I decide to develop them further. Then I work on the music using my knowledge as a composer and pianist. For that process, I look at myself as an editor.
To be honest, for my trio albums I didn’t think about the sounds and personalities of my fellow musicians. These were just pieces of music which I had ready. But of course, during the process of rehearsing and recording, many things changed and evolved into a collective band sound. However, for my latest album Tenging (2019) – which is with a quintet – I composed the music with the musicians in mind. An entirely different band and different music than my trio. Interesting to reflect on this!
LJN: What inspires you as a musician and composer living in Iceland?
IB: Yes, I am from Iceland. But what does that really mean to my practice as an artist? Does it really matter where I’m from? I have lived and studied music in Iceland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. I would say that each country has a different mentality.
Although Iceland has much in common with the Scandinavian countries, its mentality is still quite different. It is important to remember my Icelandic heritage, culture and background, and I am of course flavoured and shaped by all those things. But I am also shaped by the countries I have lived in and by the internet. Even If I had just lived in Iceland my whole life, I would still think it important to think internationally, especially during these times. Therefore, I would like to think of myself as an international artist from Iceland.
Furthermore, I think all this talk about nature – you know mountain jazz and all that – is a bit of a cliché to be honest. But maybe mountains and different landscapes can shape the way a person thinks. I really don’t know.
LJN: What can audiences in the UK expect to hear from your trio and your music?
IB: They can expect to hear open and contemplative music. The melodies are lyrical – our own kind of folk music of sorts – and there is often space for free improvisation within the song structures.
3 Nov: Leeds, Inkwell
4 Nov: Manchester, NQ Jazz at the Whiskey Jar
5 Nov: London, Kansas Smitty’s
7 Nov : Glasgow, Blue Arrow