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Back Roads Beat

Reykjavik Jazz Festival 2004

By Published: September 29, 2004
  • "Iceland's Internet traffic saw a substantial decrease this week as police raided the homes of 12 individuals suspected of sharing massive amounts of copyrighted material over a private, local DC++ hub that was infiltrated by SMAIS, the Association of film right holders in Iceland."

  • "A study of 15,555 men and women in five Scandinavian countries (including Iceland) found that people who smoke are more likely to snore, even if they have quit smoking."

  • "The Presidential residence has very little security - there are no gates or walls, or even visible security, and the Inquirer was able to wander straight in. The President commented that he believed in operating a policy that was a stark contrast to much of the western world where, for example in the U.S., a visitor to the White House is assumed to be a threat until he proves otherwise. Constant suspicion, he suggested, was detrimental to democratic society."

    So that means doing some actual work and returning to what happened beginning Saturday morning. Luckily, the day's opening acts make it bit easier since the theme seems to be music for the young - a brunch concert with that theme followed by a children's jazz performance.

    The brunch belongs to vocalist Kristjana Stefánsdóttir, whose father was apparently an Icelandic jazz legend, and she apparently is getting decent acclaim on her own merits judging from a preliminary comments from attendees. A sellout crowd pays upward of $30 apiece for the privilege of eating beans and toast while listening to her at the Hotel Borg (for all you Trekkies, here's something to debate: "Borg" means "city" in Icelandic - did the Next Generation folks rely on this when crafting their so- called "ultimate" villain that gets defeated during the opening moments of "Star Trek VIII?").

    Unfortunately, it's an average performance. Stefánsdóttir has a well-controlled voice in the Diana Krall range and is steady throughout, but a lack of real zing combined with a set heavy on contemporary pop/soft rock results in a setting that...well, is appropriate to eat brunch by. It occurs to me after the opening four songs that the audience isn't really reacting to anything she or the musicians are doing; it's not until she performs the Alan Parsons Project's "Old And Wise" toward the end of the first set, with drummer John Hollenback taking a bit of a rockish solo, that the crowd finally interjects some applause at some point other than the end of the songs.

    The good news is a bit of extra energy seems to be infused into everyone after this, including the audience, especially once the plates are cleared and the second set is underway. Her up-tempo cover of Sting's "Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic" is a crowd favorite and the highlight comes at the end with a swinging version of "Addicted To Love." More interpretations like that - jazz takes on pop - almost certainly would have made for a stronger outing.

    The most whimsical stretch of the festival is unquestionably the subsequent free children's jazz concert at the Reykjavik town hall. Anna Palina Arnadottir is more storyteller than jazz vocalist in this setting, but she has the crucial element of a strong stage presence down pat and gets the kids sitting on the floor up front clapping when they should and listening when she's telling tales. There's the other necessary touches along the way as well, such as pianist Gunnar Gunnarsson donning a punk wig for some role I know nothing about since the whole thing is in Icelandic. About the only thing it doesn't do is offer much hope in winning over the youths to jazz - there isn't much happening with the instrumentalists other than giving Arnadottir the support she needs.

    Of course, I'm probably one of the least qualified people in attendance to judge the performance. So for a knowledgeable opinion we turn to Bergthoraosk Elason, 5, of Reykjavik:

    "Very nice. It's so lovely," she says, adding the last song, apparently called "Krusilius" is her favorite.

    Whew. It's always good to have an expert bail you out.

    Actually, scratch that thought, since we've now reached the portion of the festival and/or review where countless readers (ha - I flatter myself) will no doubt be clamoring to set me straight.

    "Ladies and gentlemen: Please welcome to Iceland - Van Morrison!"

    In some ways this is both the most and least important event of the festival from my perspective. He is, after all, the headline act. I'm also interested in knowing if he's earned legitimate jazz credentials and those spots at various European venues. And it's probably what most of the people attending the festival want to read about - assuming, of course, I agree with them.

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