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Multi-instrumentalist Jóel Pálsson has come into his own over the past five years. A native of Reykjavik, Iceland, Pálsson was a mere 25 years old when he emerged onto the recording scene with his first commercial release, Prím. Fresh out of Berklee, having studied under George Garzone and Bill Pierce, Mr. Pálsson’ freshman effort was characterized by an allegiance to both Ed Bickert and John Abercrombie in that he is both muscular and intelligent in his musical approach, even when the rock backbeat predominates. Originally, released on the Icelandic Jazzis label, Pálsson’s exuberant debut was picked up and distributed by Naxos Jazz . Pálsson followed up Prím with 2001 release of Klif on the Omi Jazz label (the label's first). Well-received in these pages, Pálsson was still using electric instruments and was still directly fixed in the contemporary jazz/fusion vein. Spacious and introspective, Klif might be the archetype for Icelandic Jazz. That theory works for a bit, until you spin Septett.
can be framed as a 21st Century Birth of the Cool. Here, Pálsson expands his band from four to seven members, adding trumpet and reeds while replacing the guitar with an organ. The results are a very modern Cool Jazz. The compositions, all Pálsson’s, are brilliantly convoluted and complex, rigidly composed and effortlessly performed. This is music with unexpected and potently sensuous contours. Of note are the selections where Sigurõur Flosason performs on the bass clarinet. He is a magical cross between Harry Carney, Eric Dolphy, and Marty Ehrlich. Eypór Gunnarsson’s keyboards are tasteful without giving the music a roadhouse flavor. The predominantly acoustic recording makes this writer hope for more of the same from this talented Icelander and his merry band of islanders and expatriates.