Icelandic composer and pianist Ingi Bjarni Skúlason lived in Gotheburg, Copenhagen and Oslo while studying his Masters degree in composition. It is in these European cities where he met and performed with the musicians heard on this record. Jakob Eri Myhre and Merje Kägu join on trumpet and guitar with Daniel Andersson and Tore Ljøkelsøy forming the rhythm section on bass and drums. The music on Tenging was conceived especially with them in mind, not necessarily the specific instrumentation, but the character of the people behind the respective instrument. The resulting music is layered in space and dynamics, and seems to be controlled implicitly from within the musicians' interplay, rather than from a conscious decision made by the leader himself. An illusion surely...
Be it the high piano ripples in the opening "Ja I Dag" or the reverberatingly sustained guitar soars on "Kannski Blus," Tenging finds a young quintet continually navigating through intimate aesthetics that are inspired by modern jazz tendencies typical for the past couple of decades' variety of different European labelsECM, unsurprisingly, coming to mind. Cinematic nostalgia paired with fiery crescendos and wistfully isolated melodies on trumpet or piano, however, let the eight original compositions shine in a Nordic light that evokes the silhouettes of rough landscapes meeting oceans.
A sense of simplicity being opposed to complexity prevails throughout the album: "Ballad For My Fearless Friend" is introduced and built around low frequency piano stabs, that aren't quite chordal, before a syncopated and softly stroked melody is added on guitar. The impressively dynamic play with the growing and then reducing of long phrases highlights the transparent quality of the recording. Bjarni tends to employ his instrument like a careful brush to canvas. He adds color where color is needed and makes an effort to choose it wisely. At the same time, he knows when to leave something plain and white. The deconstructed opening sequence of the title cut reflects this pointillistic leaning prominently before the band again departs into a dynamic crescendo that sees the trumpet escaping the framed picture just for a short moment in timethe intensity in tone being reminiscent of the one cultivated by his Finnish colleague Verneri Pohjola.
Tenging (meaning connection in Bjarni's native Icelandic), is a highly accomplished work of art that flows with ease and coherence in spite of the individual compositions being tolerantly free in structure and somewhat open on both ends. Little segments of familiarity, such as the marching beginning of "Anguvaert" which recalls Ravel or the upbeat chorus of "Falin Laglina" only linger long enough to build a point of orientation, before they are abstracted and taken into new directions. A very fine recording by a pianist who has more than proven how talented he actually is several times before and especially so on his 2016 trio outing Skarkali (Self Produced). Bjarni is deserving of wide recognition for his skills as a composer as well as his perceptive piano playing.
Já í dag; Kannski blús; Ballad for My Fearless Friend; Á sunnudegi; Tenging; Angurvært; Falin laglína;
Ekki þjóðlag, ekki jazz.
Ingi Bjarni Skúlason: piano; Jakob Eri Myhre: trumpet; Merje Kägu: guitar; Daniel Andersson: bass;
Tore Ljøkelsøy: drums.