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"...the sweetest voice in the current jazz scene. Period. -Arnaldo DeSouteiro
Christmas CD of the Year
Anna Mjöll: Christmas Jazzmaz (Tónaljón) 2010
Music performance: *****
Sound quality: *****
Featuring: Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Ólafur Gaukur (acoustic & electric guitars), Dave Carpenter (bass), Don Grusin (piano & keyboards), Luis Conte (percussion) and Charlie Bisharat (violin).
In a few words? OK. The most charming and enchanting songstress in the current jazz scene has released the best Christmas album of this century.
Really? Yes, absolutely!!! Throughout the years, dozens of jazz artists have issued Christmas projects. Most recently, back in 2005, Diana Krall released the excellent Christmas Songs CD, with a big budget production directed by Tommy LiPuma and the impeccable backing of the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. No surprises to be found, though. The typical Christmas tunes with nice vocals and predictable arrangements.
Five years later we get Anna Mjöll's Christmas Jazzmaz. What a difference! Surprises abound on each track. Backed by a small group, with smart scores by producer Ólafur Gaukur (who happens to be Anna's father, and is a guitarist whose touch and phrasing on the acoustic instrument reminds me of Luiz Bonfa's approach on the 12-string guitar), the LA-based Icelandic Jazz Princess delivers fresh and creative performances of such songs as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Song and White Christmas.
Even the opener Jingle Bells sounds intriguing and -- I know it will be hard to believe -- new. Actually, I had to hold my breath during the first five songs, since Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let is snow is a pure delight and I can't find words to express my feelings for her Santa Baby. Do yourself a favor and listen. Never a vocal Christmas jazz albums sounded so charming and ...seductive! Anna's phrasing and the highly personal tone of her silky innocent voice (the missing link between Bjork and Blossom Dearie) are pure delight. And again: so far, the best Christmas CD of this century. Happy Holidays!
To order a CD copy or a digital download:
- Arnaldo DeSouteiro
Anytime you can sip a drink in a cool jazz club and be close to an excellent combo fronted by an excellent singer... who scats -- life is good.
Had that pleasure last night as I checked out a FaceBook friend who was singing at Charlie O's in the valley (LA). I don't know much about her but Anna Mjoll said she has backed up some big pop names like Julio Iglesias on tour and in the studio, and her mother was a jazz singer back home in Iceland. So that makes two Icelander jazz singers at least, when I might've previously guessed, oh, zero. I wouldn't have thought of it, but shouldn't be surprised either -- Scandinavia has produced some outstanding jazz musicians (though few vocalists -- I can't name any), and Iceland, though tiny, is part of Scandinavia.
I get the impression she's fairly recently made the career transition from pop to jazz (and has a CD out, recorded here and mixed in Reykjavik) but she has the genes and the predilection for jazz vocalese. She may not have the range of an Ella (who does?) but she's got the feel for it, and that's more important. I've heard it the other way around, fantastic vocal instrument but no sympatico, and it gets old quickly. Singing jazz requires a soulful connection to the material, and Mjoll's got it.
She's relaxed and professional on stage, because she's got the material nailed. She gives each song a personal, distinctive touch. She doesn't try to re-invent the standards, but she inhabits them evocatively. I got there for the last set and wished I'd heard more, and I'm the kind of sampler who often gets it and splits. But even though she was calling out numbers from a songbook (let's do #55...), it sounded like she had played with the John Heard Trio for ages.
Do yourself a favor and catch her now, at an intimate small club, before she breaks out into larger venues.
Music Forums Moderator
Oct 16, 2010
Someone recently referred to Anna's new CD, recorded in California and
mixed in Reykjavik, as a must have by the sweetest woman and singer
this side of Iceland!
I must add: a must have by the sweetest voice in the current jazz
Shadow... features the LA-based Icelandic jazz diva surrounded by an
all-star band led by her lucky arranger/producer/guitarist Ólafur Gaukur:
drummers Vinnie Colaiuta (the current drummer's drummer all over the
world) & John JR Robinson (Quincy Jones' favorite drummer ever, with
Micahel Jackson's Thriller on his impressive discography), bassists
Dave Carpenter & Neil Stubenhaus, keyboardist Don Grusin and
percussionist Luis Conte, whom I first met when he was playing on
Madonna's Blond Ambition tour. In some tracks - I Get A Kick Out
ofv You, C'est Si Bon and Fever -,
After repeated listenings, Shadow... evokes me memories of Peggy
Lee, Astrud Gilberto and specially Blossom Dearie. Anyway, despite all
these mentioned references echoing on my mind, Anna Mjoll sounds
like her own woman, capable to enchant and fascinate the listener with
highly personal interpretations of top-class songs.
The rhythm section changes on Johnny Mandel's classic The Shadow
of Your Smile, but once again Anna's approach is unique and amazing,
intertwined with Ólafur Gaukur's 12-string acoustic guitar a la Luiz
She knows how to caress a melody and seduce the listener, like
happens throughout the album. Another highlight, Fever, firstly made
famous by Peggy Lee and later revived by Madonna, is a singing lesson
in the sense of how to make each and every word sound with the proper
impact and feeling.
Don Grusin's piano floats in perfect empathy with Anna's milky vocals
on Burt Bacharach's The Look of Love. Don't lose your time trying to
compare her with Dionne Warwick or Diana Krall. Mjoll's once again
A latin-tinged arrangement of the French classic C'est Si Bon follows,
featuring the horn section and Conte on percussion. Anna's sounds, to
use French words, coquette et sensuel. A beautiful original by Gaukur,
Saman Bú Og Ég (the composer solos on the electric guitar while
backing himself on the 12-string acoustic guitar), and two Antonio Carlos
Jobim tunes complete the repertoire. The arangements includes a lovely
guitar-wordless vocal solo section. Her phrasing would make Jobim
A surprising mood also envolves Água de Beber, sung in Portuguese.
Both Jobim songs, also appear as bonus tracks on Icelandic versions
written by the multi-talented Gaukur.
Shadow of Your Smile is by far one of the best vocal jazz releases of
2009. Gifted with an abysmal potential, no one can accuse Anna Mjoll's
of musical compliance. This wondrous girl (all the great booklet pics
were shot on location in Iceland by Ess) knows how to take chances.
POSTED BY ARNALDO DESOUTEIRO AT 4:07 AM
Sunday night, Santa Monica. Last Sunday night I was having a really good time, sitting in the Baked Potato, halfway between Hollywood and the Valley, and listening to jazz singer Anna Mjoll perform with her really good band. I wish I could be doing the same thing tonight, but it’s a much longer drive to her gig. She’s playing in Reykjavik. Yeah, Iceland. She’s closer to the ocean there... than she was in the Valley. But she’s a lot closer to the Arctic Circle too.
Why in the world would a jazz singer book herself into a small club in an island nation with one fifth the population of the San Fernando Valley?
Because she’s home for the holidays.
Anna Mjoll is not much of what you usually picture as a jazz singer. Few of her performance photos show her in a dress. More likely you’ll get what I saw at the Potato: strategically very torn jeans, punkish spiked bracelets, stylish “armlet” tattoo, leather half-vest and a thin leather headband holding in place her long golden (really, really golden) locks, white-toed black tennies (but no candy cane-striped knee socks this time), and centerfold-class beauty and figure. Her idea of patter is to regale you with odd and gory anecdotes (decapitation, burger breath). I wonder if she dresses up a little at home? Keeps the stories a little more conventional, with mom and dad in the crowd?
Mjoll seems very comfortable on stage, like she was born there (almost true), comfortable in her own skin and very comfortable with her material and her inimitable delivery of it. She has a barely detectable accent, but it does make her sound just a little different from everyone else, in a charming way.
I was somewhat disappointed in her show last Sunday in that I had come for what was billed as her “Christmas Jazzmaz” show, named after her just-released CD of Christmas songs, but she was mostly ignoring that by the time I came in for the late show, and I heard only two holiday numbers, “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride,” the latter with a verse in her native tongue thrown in, as on the album. I’ve got to admit: I love hearing jazz standards or even Christmas songs sung in Icelandic. You really should try it.
Her band was absolutely stellar. She always seems to attract really good players. (“Jazzmaz” features an enviable cast in Vinnie Colaiuta, Don Grusin, Luis Conte, Charlie Bisharat, and the late and very missed Dave Carpenter, as well as Mjoll’s talented father Olafur Gaukur producing, arranging and on guitar.) At the Spud she had Mike Miller on guitar, John Gilutin on keys, Ian Martin on bass and Gerry Brown on drums, impressive chops-meisters and cookin’ this night. A real treat was provided when Reggie Hamilton sat in for a few on bass, even though he had literally just flown in from Europe and went straight to the club. His solo excursions alone were worth the price of admission.
Her show was very similar to the excellent one I saw a few weeks earlier at Charlie O’s, including the stories, but it nagged at me that there was some missing piece this night. Then she gets to the very last number, “Blue Skies” (except for an ill-advised bowing to a persistent request for “Route 66” – ya gotta end high and leave ‘em wanting more). She goes to town with energized scatting throughout, and it jumps out that this was the one, where Anna Mjoll was in her element and shining. She had done some scatting in previous numbers, but not much, not as much as at Charlie O’s. I don’t think it was just the scatting that made the difference, but it was definitely tied to that.
You don’t listen to Christmas music for weeks before the day now, do you? The last week before Christmas is prime time for me, enough to get the spirit but not to OD. So the timing is perfect to download Anna Mjoll’s “Christmas Jazzmaz,” at CDBaby.com. I like the last four songs the best because they’re sung in Icelandic, and the “Santa Baby” is probably the sexiest and most fun version you’ll ever hear.
Music Forums Moderator