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Joel Palsson: Varp

Mark F. Turner By

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Something a little different walks this way on Varp by saxophonist Jóel Pálsson. Having performed on hundreds of recordings and winning three "best jazz album of the year awards in Iceland, this is his fifth recording as a leader. But while the awards and accolades are most commendable, it is the unusual and memorable music that takes center stage on this release.

The recording combines many music influences—popular, world music, and electronica—into a distinctive mix that is equal parts musicianship and atmosphere. Pálsson and his quartet are clearly up to something as evidenced on the very mellow groove "Innri. It begins with a muted guitar thread and a slight Latin cadence as Pálsson brings in the melodic theme with his lush and warm tenor supported by a solid rhythm section. But added to this is a spooky organ vibe that sounds like some music from an old Boris Karloff horror flick. It may sound strange, but it's very cool.

Next is "Andrúm, part abstract and heavy rock. It contains a somnolent sax/guitar harmony, slowly building in intensity with a dissonant guitar solo by Hilmar Jensson, rock-anthemic lines by Pálsson and crazy keyboards. The jazz/rock element (similar to recent recordings by French trumpeter Erik Truffaz) is strong on the densely packed sounds of "Hótel Bristol, as bassist Valdimar Sigurjónsson and drummer Matthias Hemstock pound out the frenetic tempo.

Like a mad scientist, keyboardist Davið Þór Jónsson experiments and manipulates his Minimoog synthesizer, creating an array of sounds both weird and sublime on the atmospheric ride called "Brot. There are tender musical moments as heard on the slower paced "Jörd, with Pálsson laying down soft lines against a backdrop of percussion and electronics. The set closes with the odd-metered "Filter, new age beach music on "Just give the man what he ordered and the hypnotic "Eftirmáli, with Pálsson doubling on multiple reeds. Don't let the CD cover of the saxophonist wearing a gas mask intimidate you; there's nothing toxic about Varp. It's a breath of fresh air.

Track Listing: Innri; Andr

Personnel: J

Title: Varp | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Self Produced

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