Jul 25 2014
Andrés Thor made a statement in 2012. For Mónókróm, he utilized an unconventional array of guitars… the standard electric, the occasionally seen acoustic, but also string sets like dobro, lap steel, and pedal steel… instruments rarely seen on jazz albums. He did this while also serving up a Nordic version of a Bill Frisell Americana recording. Mónókróm found the space to offer up tunes that ranged from drifting tranquilly to those with a tight catchiness sure to grab the attention of plenty of ears along the way. It was a strong moment.
His 2014 release shows that the moment hasn’t ended.
Nordic Quartet has Thor scaling back on the guitar arsenal, sticking primarily to electric and pedal steel. Two benefits come from this decision. One, it allows him more time to express himself with nuance on lap steel and electric guitars… doing more with less and sidestepping the risk of spreading himself thin on too many instruments. The other benefit is that the album displays a greater cohesiveness, which allows the quartet to stretch out further down different avenues, especially in terms of melodic development.
The other big change for this recording is switching out piano for woodwinds. Bringing in Anders Lønne Grønseth for this session provides a different kind of foil for Thor’s guitars, and the melodic sparks that fly between the deep sigh of bass clarinet and the bright optimism of electric guitar (“Basic”) are exceeded only by the harmonic loveliness afforded by the partnership between tenor sax and pedal steel (“Komodo”).
On his newest, Thor sheds the Frisellian Americana influence. It is difficult to deduce whether this shift in sound allowed him the opening to bring in new personnel and instrumentation or if, instead, the changes were necessitated by his vision for the new project. Perhaps some of both. There is also the roots of the artists themselves. With completely different personnel comprising the quartet for his new recording, the mix of regional influences of Thor’s native Iceland and those of the other quartet members (from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) are going to inform this music at varying degrees.
The distant warmth and hint of sadness on “Fjarðarmáni” are indicative of the music’s Icelandic roots. The gentle melancholia of “Sea” can be traced back to Grenseth’s Norway. The flashes of straight-ahead jazz on “Utilforladelig” would be a fine fit for the Swedish scene. The playful “Squiek” embraces the quirky experimentalism of the Danish scene.
And while the Frisell influence is gone, it doesn’t prevent Thor from shaping a folk-jazz recording out of Nordic Quartet. Even the four referenced locations aren’t sufficient to represent the wholeness of the album’s expressions. “Stuttlega” could just as well be an alternate track to Plainville, saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s Northeastern, USA vision of modern folk-jazz, and the bounce and flutter of opening track “Butterfly” could easily partner up with music from Pete Robbins’ Transatlantic Quartet (NYC modern jazz which, also, has some Copenhagen roots).
Whatever the inspiration for the changes, Nordic Quartet is a compelling next step, and a fine reason to be optimistic for what’s to come.
Your album personnel: Andrés Thor (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar), Anders Lønne Grønseth (tenor & soprano saxophone, bass clarinet), Andreas Dreier (double bass), and Erik Nylander (drums, drum machine).
Released on Nordic Notes.
Jazz from the Reykjavík, Iceland scene.
(Note: Andres Thor also goes by the name Andrés Þór. The alternate spelling of the name is a matter of convenience for the English-centric keyboard and databases.)
(Note: If additional retail links become available, I’ll add them later.)
And here’s a LINK to a Bird is the Worm review of Mónókróm, which, as you can probably tell, I highly recommend. And for those who have already read that review, just an fyi that the album is available at more retail outlets than when I initially pubbed the review. I’ve updated the article with those links.