Nov 15 2012
Plenty of instruments that belong to the guitar family, but you don’t often see them appear on a jazz album. There’s some exceptions, of course. Bill Frisell has famously created his very own jazz subgenre of Americana Jazz, a form of folk-jazz fusion, which incorporates instruments like pedal steel and dobro, as well as their music forms and qualities. And other artists have begun carving out territory in the Americana-Jazz subgenre, notably Jeremy Udden, Jessica Lurie, Hank Roberts, Jeff Cosgrove, and, of course, Bela Fleck’s inspired collaboration with the Marcus Roberts Trio. But with the exception of Lurie’s Balkan influenced form of folk jazz, most of the main players are U.S.-centric.
With Mónókróm, Icelandic guitarist Andrés Þór breaks that trend. Like a Nordic version of Frisell’s Americana Jazz sound, Mónókróm adds dobro, pedal and lap steel, Wurlitzer and pump organ to the mix for a set of intoxicating tunes that transition between a brooding simmer and a lively bounce. It doesn’t sound like anything else, which, I suppose, is a pretty impressive quality for an album to possess.
Your album personnel: Andrés Þór (guitar, dobro, lap steel, pedal steel), Agnar Magnusson (piano, Wurlitzer, pump organ & Celeste & Mellotron), Þorgrímur Jónsson (bass), and Scott McLemore (drums, percussion).
(Note: Andrés Þór also goes by Andres Thor, and it’s how I’ll refer to him for the rest of the review. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’m certain that the alternate name is a matter of convenience for the English-centric keyboard and databases.)
Mónókróm is one of those albums that proves it often doesn’t pay to be too hasty when searching through the new arrivals listings. The album opens with the title-track, and while it’s a nice enough tune, there’s nothing about it that would’ve normally snared my attention to stick around. However, I’m tremendously gratified that I did.
“RNA” is a brooding composition. Magnusson creates little eddies on piano while Jonsson and McLemore skip rocks over the water’s surface on bass and drums. And over the top of this, Thor casts out wistful notes on dobro. Dobro is all about the hopeful kind of blues, when sad times are embraced as the precursor to better days ahead, and so that juxtaposition of hopeful dobro over melancholy piano and rhythm section makes for quite the intoxicating song, and one of the best I’ve heard all year.
“Heima” also keeps things on the quiet side of town. A gentle lullaby that takes its time to develop, Thor casually puts one foot in front of the other, performing a slow reveal on the melody in a way not dissimilar to Frisell’s method. The lovely part of this track, however, is when Thor hands off the ball to piano and accompanies on pedal steel. Magnusson, also, switches things up mid-stream, offering some wavering notes on mellotron to open the track, and some pump organ, to boot.
But it’s not all moody drifting. The catchy “Pink Wilco” has a nice blues-rock persona, both melodically and rhythmically. “X” climbs out of bed and slips into a hopping post-bop tune, with some nice interaction between Thor’s guitar and Magnusson’s piano, and “1982” that has a nice steady groove, a groove which Thor keeps hazy with lap steel in the first half of the tune, but turns up the heat on the second half with guitar. “Sjavargrund” is a pretty ballad given all types of life by Magnusson’s Wurlitzer. “Hrio” is pretty standard fare as to modern jazz guitar, though McLemore gets some decent chatter going on drums to keep things interesting, and “Munchen” brings the album to a close with an uptempo piece that, again, has some fine work on piano.
In terms of overall sound, this album marks a shift for Thor. Previous albums had him in more conventional modern jazz guitar sets, with recordings in a sax-guitar quartet, a guitar-organ trio, and the traditional guitar/bass/drums trio (notably, with Einar Scheving at the drum set). In addition, the Thor, McLemore, and Magnusson have a separate outfit called ASA Trio, which typically offer a quirky groove. I’m hoping that Mónókróm isn’t a one-off recording for this particular direction, and I’m already looking forward to what comes next.
Released on the Dimma Sweden label.
Jazz from the Reykjavik, Iceland scene.
You can stream, and purchase, the album on the artist Bandcamp site.