Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Name You Should Know: Sunna Gunnlaugs

I am having problems with my blog site. So that I can do some entries, please note that I cannot use highlighting, bold, and italics at the moment, so bear with me.

Distilled cover art
Distilled (Sunny Sky Records 2013) is the latest in a string of wonderful CDs by Icelandic jazz pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, with Porgrimur Jonsson on bass and Scott McLemore on drums. In the composition of the band and the songs themselves it is in many ways a continuation of the wonderful and well reviewed "Long Pair Bond" (Sunny Sky Records 2011). But it is also a continuation of a long streak of interesting, original and lyrical sets by Gunnlaugs, which up until the last two featured quartets. Besides herself and husband Scott McLemore on drums for each, the rest of the CDs I have of hers and the rest of the bands on them are as follows: "The Dream" (2010), a quartet album with Loren Stillman on alto sax and Eivind Opsvik on bass; "Live in Europe" (Sunny Sky 2003), a quartet with Ohad Talmor on sax and Matt Pavolka on bass; and "Mindful" (2002), a quartet with Tony Malaby on saxes and Drew Gress on bass.

Product DetailsI like the quartets a lot, and was drawn to Gunnalaugs' music immediately upon hearing "Mindful", with its combination of jazz sensibility and Icelandic folk music, its contrasts in dynamics among the pieces empasized by the sometimes agressive play of the saxophonists against the calming lyricism of the piano, and compositions.

Product DetailsBut I like the trios a lot more, partly because they are my favorite form of jazz music, but also because they really serve to emphasize the touch, tone, and lyrical play of Gunnlaugs. With seemingly little effort Gunnlaugs reaches into each song to bring to us something special, be it gentle caresses of the keys on some of the most balladic tunes like "Smiling Face", or very determined strikes on the more powerful melodies like "Gallop", a composition of Jonsson's, one of three by the bassist, along with four by Gunnalaugs, two by McLemore, two improvisations, and one cover of Paul Motian's "From Time to Time" played with such feeling that one can hear the love of this trio for the late drummer's work. Speaking of Motian, McLemore has clearly some of that genetic strain in his play, which is subdued and light for the most part, emphasizing colors and textures over driving beats, wtih great use of his entire kit.  "Opposite Side" is the chance for Jonsson to step forward with his powerful bass on top of the lovely melody penned and played by Gunnalaugs. This song reaches deep into the listener's heart with every note, every pluck of the bass or swipe of the brushes. It's the trio at its peak.

Gunnalaugs' antecedents come from the line of players like Evans, Jarrett, Stenson, and Pieranunzi, players for whom melody and lyricism, along with the interplay among the trio members, are the keys to the beauty of their music. Her music reaches great depths at times while at others can be incredibly fragile, but at all times it is lovely.

Please get a copy of this CD, "Long Pair Bond" or others from Bandcamp and listen. You are missing out on a great experience if you don't.

Most music people in the U.S. know the names Bjork and Sigurd Ros and may know they are from Iceland. Now impress them with the music of Sunna Gunnlaugs!

Random Notes: My wife and I traveled to Iceland two years ago and we overwhelmed by its natural beauty, so much so that we are returning this year to see more of this fabulous country. While I was there I found that Iceland has a heck of a jazz scene and picked up many wonderful CDs by artists who need a higher profile both in Europe and the United States. Names like pianist Gunnar Gunnarsson, pianist Agnar Mar Magnusson, bassist Tomas Einarsson, pianist Arni Karlsson, the K Trio, and saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason all have wonderful CDs worth seeking out. Labels like Dimma and Edda seem to carry most of these artists. Magnusson has one CD with Ben Street on bass and Bill Stewart on drums called "Kvika" on Dimma. Someday I will write a post about Icelandic jazz, perhaps when I return this summer from there again possibly with more music.

Second note, I posted about Scott McLemore's last CD from 2012 on October 10th, and included it in my best of 2012 list. It features Gunnlaugs on piano as well.

Product DetailsThird, Gunnlaugs full name is I believe Sunna Gunnlaugsdottir, indicating she is the daughter of Gunnlaug (?). He brother would be Gunnlaugson, son of Gunnlaugs. This is how last names are determined in Icelandic tradition -- your last name becomes son or daughter of your father's name. Just an interesting tidbit we learned when we were there.

Fourth, if you read mysteries please read those by Arnaldur Indridason. Excellent procedurals for those who like Scandanavian mysteries. Also you can read other mysteries about Iceland from Michael Ridpath, Arni Thorarinsson, or Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

Fifth, in case you can't tell we are in love with all things Iceland, except some of its delicacies like rotted shark meat, puffin, and whale....never mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment