The music stays elusively, seductively one step ahead, drawing the listener in close, enough to feel the warmth of the music and the gentle tap of its rhythms, but never enough to grasp it. This is a sensation that makes it easy to hit the play button again after the last note has played. It’s not so much an addiction as a need to capture the music.
Drummer Scott McLemore has a couple albums under his own name, but also influential collaborations with pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, the ASA Trio, and experimental pop artist Amy Kohn. The mix of influences of straight-ahead modern jazz, Icelandic/Nordic/ECM moody jazz, and eccentric pop music all show their influence on Remote Location. It’s a curiously quirky, enchantingly catchy album that has a pop music sensibility retrofitted for the natural complexities of a jazz composition.
Your album personnel: Scott McLemore (drums), Óskar Guðjónsson (tenor sax), Andrés Thor (accoustic & electric guitar), Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano, wurlitzer), and Róbert Þórhallsson (contrabass, electric, & acoustic bass guitar).
A couple examples of what I’m talking about…
The nine minute long “Citizen Sitting Zen” just drifts along for all of six minutes, offering wispy notes, and establishing a demeanor of perfect serenity. And then guitar approaches from the distance with crunching footsteps, growing louder and closer, breaking the peacefulness the song had spent so much time establishing. But executed with a deft precision, sax and percussion and keys mesh it all together and recreate that initial serenity, just at a greater tempo and volume. It makes for a low-key but thrilling turn of events, and it’s arguably the best tune on the album.
And the perky “Dunegrass,” which begins with a catchy repetition of phrase by Gunnlaugs on piano, which Guðjónsson adds some accompaniment to. McLemore kicks in an amicable pattern, but the entrance of Andres Thor on acoustic guitar really makes the tune shine bright. And when Gunnlaugs riffs on that opening phrase by exploring its different facets, that and the acoustic guitar and drums that sound like sand blowing across a deserted parking lot, its like post-bop for the Great Wide Open spaces far from the streets of New York City… an airy expansiveness that never lets itself get too far from the earth that launched it. It’s a bit of a magical tune with an ambiguous groove and sweet lovely melody.
Several of the album tracks are concretely positioned in the sound of the Icelandic scene where McLemore now calls home. It’s got plenty of the flavor of Nordic Jazz, but where Nordic tends to gravitate to the atmospherics, Icelandic keeps closer to the earth with a folk song pragmatism and children’s lullaby charm. Tracks like “Balkelero” and “Woods At Night” and “Secrets of Earth” and “Charlottesville” fit that bill. While not the most compelling tracks on the album, we are talking about an album here and not just a collection of various songs. “Dunegrass” wouldn’t have had the same kick were it not for the sighing ambiance of “Charlottesville.” And the transition from the steadily rising energy of “Woods At Night” creates a nice dynamic with the simmering groove of “Waking.” In fact, its the push and pull of the album’s shifting intensity from track to track that is one of its most redeeming, and entrancing, qualities.
The album is bookended by tracks at opposite ends of the spectrum. Album opener and title-track “Remote Location” has an anxious gate. Bass twitches nervously, and then the tune’s muscles relax. By the time guitar makes its entrance, the song seems to have found its groove, and even a return to the opening statement lacks the opening tension. Things settle in nicely after that. The album ends with “Movement for Motian,” a ballad that cycles more than sways, like leaves caught in a dust devil.
Released on the Sunny Sky Records label.
Jazz from the Reykjavik, Iceland scene.
You can stream the album in its entirety on the artist’s bandcamp page. You can also purchase it there, both as CD or Download (in a number of different file formats).
Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist.