It is tempting to connect a musical aesthetic with a particular place. In fact, the whole idea of national music relies on the concept of an intrinsic national spirit, which creates an original musical expression. The only problem with a concept like national music is that it tends to pigeonhole musicians and create prejudice rather than adventurousness.
Then it is great to have an artist like Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs, who is good at turning things around. It wouldn't be far off the mark to see her as a kind of musical trickster, who refuses to be placed within a certain sound or tradition. She is aware of her Icelandic roots and has used the country's musical legacy on Songs from Iceland (Sunny Sky, 2009), but the tranquil folk melodies of Iceland is balanced by an elegant modernistic exploration of time signatures and an infectious swing. This musical blend of old and new also comes to the fore on Distilled, which finds Gunnlaugs in the congenial company of drummer Scott McLemore and bassist Thorgrimur Jonsson.
Whether they swing elegantly on "Momento," dive deep into balladic nostalgia on the title track or explore delicate textures on the brief haiku-like "spin 7," there's a sense of an organic meeting between tradition and modernism or what might be called an accessible experimentalism. Like the rest of the trio, Gunnlaugs seems to have the whole history of jazz at her fingertips and Distilled is the sweeping sound of a rich musical life that has been distilled into art, and like the best musical offerings, the album transgresses conventional boundaries, including those of geography.
Momento; Distilled; Switcheroo; Smiling Face; Gallop; Spin 6; The New Now; 24th Trip; Things You Should Know; From Time To Time; Opposite Side; Spin 7.
Sunna Gunnlaugs: piano; Þorgrímur Jónsson: bass; Scott Mclemore: drums.
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