The Icelandic duo of singer Kristjana Stefansdottir and pianist Agnar Mar Magnusson has been collaborating on ways to develop new material for jazz vocals. Their specialty is retrieving late-20th Century pop songs that might have originally been "lost" through the technology of the day (eg. synthesizers, drum machines, electronics) and transfer them into a jazz setting. In 2005, they recorded this album in Brooklyn with two Americans, bassist Drew Gress and drummer John Hollenbeck. To my ears, the combination is like a very Keith Jarrett-influenced "standards" trio with a vocalist who sounds like a much stronger-voiced Norah Jones.
It took a while for me to realize that 90% of this material comes from pop music, since I was was unfamiliar with most of it. "All I Want Is You" is a late-1980s U2 song; "Knowing Me Knowing You" is mid-1970s Abba; "Owner of a Broken Heart" was a hit from Yes and borrowed from the album 90125 ; "No Surprises" originates from Radiohead in 1997.
Kristjana & Agnar's version of "Baby Now That I've Found You" is much closer to the tender ballad of Alison Krauss & Union Station from a decade ago than the 1960s bubble gum hit by The Foundations. Other musical contributions come from the Alan Parsons Project, Nick Drake, Tears for Fears and Sting ("Every Little Thing She Does is Magic"). Kristjana Stefansdottir, whose father is evidently a famed jazz legend in Iceland, performed the above number at the 2004 Reykjavik Jazz Festival, where it has become a house favorite. Only the title tune, "Me For You (Eg Um Thig)," is a Agnar Mar Magnusson original.
So how does all of this play out? Philosophically, they've come up with a winning formulathe songs, removed from their rock trappings, do sound better with the simplicity of a piano jazz trio. Kristjana's smoky voice, paired with Agnar's sensitive yet probing piano, transforms the music into a late-night setting, and the addition of Gress and Hollenbeck does indeed add to the jazzification of this material.
Personnel: Kristjana Stefansdottir: vocals; Agnar Mar Magnusson: piano; Drew Gress: bass; John