Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reykjavik: A Haven for Music Lovers

Enjoyed my time in Iceland, mostly touring the incredible countryside full of fjords, geysers, hot steam fields, mountains, glaciers, lava formations, volcanos......and seeing whales, puffins, and seals in their natural habitats.

We spent a couple of days in Reykjavik as well, a really lovely city of charming buildings, parks, and general calm. And of music of all types, including the music of the Reykjavik Jazz Festival. Some of Iceland's rock music stars are well known in the U.S. already -- Sigur Ros, Bjork, and Of Monsters and Men -- while the jazz musicians are less known. I will have a post on them shortly, but today want to comment on the availability of CDs and vinyl at not one, two, or three stores, but at four music stores as well as at several bookstores. And this is not just rock, but also classical, jazz, folk etc. from Iceland, Europe and the U.S. Reykjavik is basically a music lover's dream location, four plus stores located in easy walking distance of each other.

The first and foremost store to visit  is 12 Tonar, where music is featured, discussed, heard, and sold like it should be. Be prepared to spend a while here at the most comfortable and accomodating music store I havea seen in ages. The collections are strong in each area, particularly with European labels and especially Icelandic labels including their own imprimateur for the jazz collection. Customers can open any CD they like, and can listen on one of about a dozen CD walkmen located around the shop next to comfortable easy chairs and couches. The store staff offers espresso while one listens along with knowledgable advice or information if requested. Here is a link to an article from Gramophone magazine about the store with more details and praise.

and from Buzzfeed, this link has 12 Tonar, with interior pictures, right below Amoeba Records:

Where do you go from here? That is actually an easy choice. Just as 12 Tonar features a great selection of new music, Geisladiskabud Valda has an overwhelming amount of used CDs, vinyl, and DVDs stuffed into a very small space just up the street. It is an incredible treasure hunter's delight, piles and piles of all types of music from all over the world. Jazz is but a small part of the collections but pretty strong for the used CD/vinyl hunter. there were probably about 200 CDs of Icelandic jazz in two columns, and then another four columns of general jazz CDs, belwo which had to be at least 100 Miles Davis CDs, and then a large number of Coltrane and Rollins also separated out. And then to top it off there were boxes that had yet to be sorted and shelved with more jazz. I picked up some used Icelandic music by ADHD and Joel Palsson at about half of what they were priced at in the other stores, plus a 1979 ECM CD by George Adams called "Sound Suggestions."  Lots of ECM in fact on the shelves. And for  those who like 60s rock, there were huge selectrions of music by the Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, The Doors, Bob Dylan and others right up front. A great place to spend a day browsing if one has the time.
The next store to visit is associated with a local record label,  Smekkleysa (Bad Taste) Records, which largely produces indie music including music by the Sugar Cubes and Sigurd Ros. While most of the music is geared to other genres like rock and indie, there is a small but effective area committed to jazz CDs, and people who have an interest and knowledge of the Icelandic jazz scene. Not the best place to go first, but a nice place to check in on for random selections and to discuss possible selections with a knowledgeable salesperson.

Skifan - Reykjav√≠k, IcelandThose are the three independent record stores in Reykjavik, but there are several other places to buy music, including jazz. One is Skifan, a more mainstream store with a more mainstream vibe. Plenty of music there including jazz, but the jazz selection is limited for the most part to the most recent issues and some compilatoins and such from non-Icelandic sources. Still, just having a store like this with a jazz collection is a plus in most places these days, so hooray for Skifan.  

The other places to get jazz CDs would be bookstores, of which Eymundsson is the largest and best known chain in Iceland, with two stores in downtown Reykjavik. The downtown store in the City Center has an excellent collection of jazz and was willing to play one or two CDs if asked, and is a definite placae to vist since each store seemed to have one or two CDs that others did not. A note here -- if you are ever in Akeyuri in the north, which is a charming little town, the Eymundsson there has an overwehlming jazz CD collection (and a great English book section (like in Reykjavik as well)where I was able to purchase the newest books by two of my favorite Icelandic mystery writers, Arnaldur Indridisson and Yrsa Siggursdottir before they have been published here.) Anyway, I do recommend a visit to Eymundsson for music and books. And good coffee as well.

So that's it, a gold mine for those interested in new listening experiences. I was returning for a second time to Iceland so I was aware of some of the music, but found a number of new and interesting players or bands --- Hot Eskimos and ADHD had not been on my radar before, while new music was there from K Trio, Agnar Mar Magnusson and others for me to hear. In all I picked out 19 CDs to take back with me, and I intend to produce a post about them shortly. Suffice it to say that being able to listen to most of them beforehand was incredible, a real return to the days of yesteryear around here, and allowed me to pick and choose -- I acutally did reject about as many as I took. 

Iceland is a great place to visit for its beauty, its people, and its music. We are already planning to go back to see the Southeast and Eastern fjords that we have yet to visit after two trips, and I will always look forward to grazing among the great record stores as well.  


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