Ooh, I do like a northern saxophone. In fact there is something special, it seems, about the jazz made in those northern countries where the winters are long and dark and it’s easy to feel a long way from everywhere.
The title of this album comes from the fact that drummer Scott McLemore, born in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, has relocated to Reykjavik in Iceland. He might feel a long way from home but he has a bunch of Icelandic musicians to play with and they, and the location, have clearly inspired him.
On piano and Wurlitzer is Sunna Gunnlaugs, on basses, both acoustic and electric, is Robert Porhhallsson, on acoustic and electric guitar is Andres Thor, and on that gorgeous-sounding tenor saxophone is Oskar Gudjonsson.
The accent is on melodies. McLemore describes it as “an emotionally laden collection of songs. Although there are no lyrics, there is a lot of meaning/memory/feeling behind the notes”.
And those melodies never really go away – the players might go off on brief improvisational excursions but they quickly return to the tunes and the arrangements, though in a seamless flow. It’s a highly successful integration of structured composition and improvisational space. Often the tunes are simple – or have simple hooks to them.
Take Citizen Sitting Zen, for example, which has a key phrase that is returned to throughout. But it also has a lovely meandering harmonic path and the key phrase always seems to return in a different form, shared by different instruments, and in different harmonies, so that it keeps developing, and the story keeps moving. And then, when you least expect it, a guitar riff comes in, the whole thing goes up a gear and that phrase returns via the saxophone in a completely new guise.
Each piece is like this, and, while each has a different character – the opening title track and the gently developing Dunegrass, which also takes an unexpected late turn, are other highlights – there is an overall unity to the whole album that makes it a most rewarding single-sitting listen.
I suppose it is unfair to single out Gudjonsson, because in fact it is the cohesion of the whole band and the strength of McLemore’s writing that make this such an enjoyable listen. It’s just that that saxophone sounds so damned fine!
Sometimes the most rewarding musical experiences come not from the tried and trusted names whose complete back catalogues you own, but from a bunch of musicians you have never heard before. You might not find this album particularly easy to get hold of in the shops – I was just very lucky that a CD arrived unexpectedly in the post – but it really is worth checking out.
Just go to www.scottmclemore.com