The members of saxophonist Jóel Pálsson's quartet on Klif
share two things in common: first, they're all Icelandic; and second, they all have a profound respect for space. (Apparently island identity and an aversion to density are not mututally exclusive.) The tunes on Klif,
all Pálsson originals (except "Serenity," by guitarist Jensson; and "Interlude," an apparent collective improvisation), operate in the middle zone of intensity. They toy with tension, building and releasing small peaks and valleys within a very fluid overall context. Guitarist Hilmar Jensson deserves much of the credit for his vital role ensuring continuity. His stretched-out, reverberant tones often connect the gaps between pockets of relative energy.
For a mellow record, Klif has a lot to offer. Because Pálsson takes a serious, deliberate approach to his lead role, the group retains a strong sense of forward momentum. His playing often has a bittersweet, ironic qualityat times echoing the way Coltrane might adhere closely to the formal harmony and then peel off at the end of a phrase. But Pálsson certainly speaks with his own voice. Of the four members of this group, bassist Skúli Sverisson has perhaps the greatest name recognition (at least in NYC circles), and he's quite familiar with this particular instrumentation. When Sverisson steps forward, as on the upbeat tune "Rats," he tends to pull the group along with him. When he holds back, he nestles in with the drummer for understated counterpoint. The dichotomous composition "Ivaf," for example, echoes an Eastern European sense of blocky rhythmuntil Sverisson shifts to reverb-drenched oscillations, and then the piece implodes to yield some of the most poignant moments on the record.
Because the players on Klif have an intuitive respect for each other's musical roles, they fit into a coherent whole. The music that results may not offer any electric spark or excitement, but it's extremely coherent and quite beautiful in an introspective way.