Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Reykjavik Jazz Festival 2004

Mark Sabbatini By

Sign in to view read count
The free reception draws a decent capacity crowd of about 150 people who listen to the mayor give a speech I don't understand a word of, followed by one song each by four groups playing during the festival. It's a diverse and largely promising sampler of mostly modern straight-ahead playing highlighted by two trios. Cold Front, a guitar/bass/trumpet emseble of players from three northern countries that is the evening's opening act (see review below), appears to have real barn-burners on guitar and upright acoustic bass. Binary Orchid features pianist Harmen Fraanje of Holland playing a slow, well-spaced chord progression he sticks to and embellishes upon as drummer Lieven Venken of Belgium enters with a gentle hand-played world beat that provides a nice counterpunch. He picks up his sticks soon after and, along with bassist Gulli Gudmundsson of Reykjavik, spends the rest of the time getting increasingly frenitic as Fraanje sticks to his pacing of Monk-like proportions. His style is no question all his own, but inspires favorable comparison to the deeply intellectual and deceptively low- key European playing of Brad Mehldau. Their full performance, scheduled Thursday, appears promising. The other two performances include a high-tempo modernistic piece by the quartet Atlandshafsbandalagid and a fairly straightforward reworking of the Sting tune "Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic" by Icelandic vocalist Kristjana Stefansdottir.

The opening two concerts are a five-minute walk away at a place called Kaffi Reykjavik and it's obvious immediately the crowd of about 100 is hear to listen, not talk or eat - indeed, the heavily advertised fish buffet is even not being served. Jazz may be a tiny part of the music scene, but those who are fans obviously are passionate about it.

Cold Front, a trio featuring guitarist Bjorn Thoroddsen (left), bassist Steve Kirby (center) and trumpter Richard Gillis play during the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Reykjavik Jazz Festival at city hall.

First impressions about Cold Front from the city hall performance are quickly reinforced. Guitarist Bjorn Thoroddsen, recently named 2004 Icelandic Jazz Musician of the Year, and U.S. bassist Steve Kirby dominate the evening exchanging rapid-fire solos and exceptional rhythm support of each other. Canadian trumpter Richard Gillis possesses a modern mellow tone that makes a good lead voice for the choruses, but simply doesn't have the creative fire on solos as his bandmates.

Thoroddsen isn't revolutionary and he occasionally retreats into easy riffs, but he mixes melodic embellishment, blues, flamenco, classical and other styles so freely and effectively it's hard to put him in a box and say he sounds like player "X." Meanwhile, Kirby is The Man, at least this evening, giving the audience the full range of his upright with lightning-paced and seldom-repetitive phrasing throughout. On "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" he opens by playing an unaccompanied "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and, having captured the attention and amusement of the crowd, rouses them into a thunderous ovation with a subsequent solo whose thesis I cound't even begin to do justice to in my condition. The set's other highlight is Thoroddsen's original "Tango," where Gillis is at his tonal and artistic best, providing a near-perfect acoustic sweetning to a thumping hook that begs for the increasingly diverse embellishments from all three players. It makes the set's closing "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" feel like a bit of a letdown despite it's full-bore pace, lacking the originality of the highlight pieces.

And with that I sadly conclude I'll never last through the second act by Atlandshafsbandalagid, scheduled to begin at 10:30, and decide it's time to call it a day. So it's off to another cab and, after nearly falling asleep during the 10-minute ride, I lurch into my room and chew on a bit of dried fish (better than you'd think, actually) before crashing hard, vowing tommorrow I will be among the crowd that makes all those places serving after-midnight hangover food necessary.

Return to top

Day 3: There's no debate - winners give cash handouts and play down expectations

The poll results are in and the results overwhelmingly one-sided and grim - most people aren't even aware my preferred choice even exists.

Substance dominants character. A few nights of exposure won't change any minds. And what makes them happiest are generous cash payoffs.

The survey has an error margin of...uh, whadda mean implications of bribery? I don't know where your mind is, but I'm talking about jazz and Icelandic taxi drivers. Those CNN talking heads in various hotel lobbies going on endlessly about some election-related square-off are talking about an event that doesn't occur until 1 a.m. local time - and there's no way anyone's going to read a review by me of that sort of thing anyway (but here's my full unabridged text, just in case: Ugh.).


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Refugees find harmony on Norway's northern edge at Varangerfestivalen 2007 Back Roads Beat Refugees find harmony on Norway's northern edge at...
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: February 5, 2008
Read Tragicomic Tones in Turkmenistan Back Roads Beat Tragicomic Tones in Turkmenistan
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: August 13, 2007
Read "Philadelphia Jazz: A Brief History" History of Jazz Philadelphia Jazz: A Brief History
by Jack McCarthy
Published: May 24, 2017
Read "Holiday 2017 III - Popular" Bailey's Bundles Holiday 2017 III - Popular
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: December 9, 2017
Read "Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival 2017" In Pictures Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Robbins
Published: August 9, 2017
Read "C. Michael Bailey’s Best Recordings of 2017" Best of / Year End C. Michael Bailey’s Best Recordings of 2017
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: December 5, 2017
Read "Meet Ari (ImpressARIo) Silverstein" Out and About: The Super Fans Meet Ari (ImpressARIo) Silverstein
by Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper
Published: February 7, 2017
Read "David Bowie: Behind the Curtain" Book Reviews David Bowie: Behind the Curtain
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: August 20, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!