Pianist/composer Ingi Bjarni has a delicate affinity for nuance which is layered with beautiful precision in his quintet’s new CD “Tenging.” Translated into English as “connection,” the tracks fit together with smooth edges and strong unity while celebrating each musician’s individuality.
The title track “Tenging” is the ultimate mood painting: an ethereal beginning as the bass flutters, tentatively, up to its highest range, employing a pointedly effective use of harmonics, with guitar following suit in an uninhibited and gutsy manner. The sentiment then finds its core in Bjarni’s piano, at which point the ensemble rushes in to tell a much more assertive story. The song is an amazing study in dynamics and color. “Ballad for my Fearless Friend” is a full keyboard’s worth of emotional hurtles and challenges, upward steps, pauses for breath and ultimately, courage.
As the project’s title suggests, the band clicks with an abundance of connection to one another. They seem to have, even this early on in their work together, established a signature sound that will only become more resplendent with time.
What song or artist got you into jazz in the first place?
As a teenager, I listened to a lot of techno music, and thanks to the internet I found older techno music which then led me to electronica and funk, then jazz-funk and fusion and then finally jazz. So in a way, I dug myself backwards through the history of rhythmical instrumental music.
Herbie Hancock was the first jazz artist I really listened to. For a while, the song “Chameleon” from the “Headhunters” album was my favorite piece of music.
Culturally, is your music informed by European influences or Scandinavia?
I think I am very much informed by what could be called the “Nordic” sound. I listen to a lot of artists from Scandinavia and artists on the ECM label. Besides Iceland, I have lived in Sweden, Norway and Denmark during my master studies. Before that, I was studying in the Netherlands, and there the education was very much based on the American jazz tradition.
Perhaps my music is a bit of both worlds, the European and American. Geographically speaking, Iceland is of course between America and Europe! But I am also influenced by all the people I have met, the internet, all the places I have been to, all the books I have read, etc.
It’s all just a big mix.
Who are some of your idols in the world of jazz?
For a long time, Keith Jarrett was my hero. His playing is fantastic!
What are the qualities of the piano that make it a great instrument for jazz?
It is possible to play and express melody, harmony and rhythm all at once on a piano. It’s a percussive instrument where it’s also possible to sing with good touch and intent. These are qualities that are important in jazz.
How would you characterize your style?
This is difficult to answer! Words that come to mind: Contemplative, sensitive, personal, impressionistic and independent.
Venue you have always wanted to perform?
Bimhuis in Amsterdam. When I was living in the Netherlands I frequently went there to see concerts. It is such a great venue! Great sound, great design, and versatile programming.
Top places to perform in Iceland?
For a jazz musician, the most important event to perform at is Reykjavík Jazz Festival which happens each September in different venues around the city. Top venues in Reykjavík include Harpa Concert Hall, the Nordic House and Hannesarholt, all of which have good grand pianos (that is important). There are nice venues outside Reykjavík as well.
Serious question: is it cold year-round? Does that affect the jazz scene?
No, it is not. While the temperatures in summer rarely exceed 77 °F, winters are usually quite mild with temperatures around 32 °F.
I’m not sure if the weather directly affects the jazz scene. But come to think of it, a bass player friend of mine, Sigmar Matthiasson, made a record about the northern lights and northern winds called Áróra.
Event you have always wanted to perform?
There are so many! The Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige in Italy would be interesting. I have seen photos and videos from that festival and the views are spectacular.
What kinds of things did you consider when getting your ensemble together?
For my band, I wanted musicians who approach music in a similar way as I do. I just thought about the people I wanted to play with rather than the instruments I wanted.
For example, I didn’t want just any guitar player, I wanted Merje Kägu.
What does each member contribute to the feel of your music?
What I really like about all the musicians on “Tenging” is that they all have sensitivity in their playing. For me, listening and sensitivity go hand in hand.
About each member:
Jakob Eri Myhre: His sound on the trumpet player is very soothing and beautiful.
Merje Kägu: She always approaches music and her guitar with care.
Tore Ljøkelsøy: He focuses on developing and keeping ideas alive with his drumming.
Daniel Andersson: He keeps it all together with his expressive bass playing.
Why are you working with Losen Records and how has the label helped you to develop as a musician?
Losen Records is a Norwegian label. I felt that this band is my connection to the other Nordic Countries I have lived in.
A label is like a family. Who are the people in my musical family? Belonging to the same family as some of my good friends (Merje Kägu for example has a wonderful release on Losen Records) – that is worthwhile! Also my former teacher, bass player Anders Jormin, released an album with Losen Records this year (“Poems for Orchestra”). Losen sent the CD to various magazines, radios, blogs etc. which has resulted in some airplay and reviews.
Is there a statement or overriding idea expressed in your new CD “Tenging” – and what does that term mean?
“Tenging” is the Icelandic word for connection. People are connected to the internet at all times, connected to the latest news and information. But aren’t we in fact losing our primal connection to the Earth, losing connections to our own intuition and to other people? The music on “Tenging” is about believing in intuition. Most of the songs on the CD were composed by following my intuition rather than following decisions of the mind.
What was the most difficult part of producing this CD? The most fun?
I always find it difficult to record and be in a studio. It is never the same feeling as playing live. And for this album especially, I found it difficult to choose which song should be the first track. The most fun was rehearsing the music with the band before the recording.
What track is the most unusual and why?
I’m not sure. Maybe “Ballad for My Fearless Friend” since the melody feels simple and singable, while the underlying rhythm is difficult in different time signatures. For me, it could also be the last piece, “Ekki Þjóðlag Ekki Jazz” (“Not Folk Not Jazz”), which is a solo piece. I have never recorded just solo piano before.
What do you most want people to know about your new CD?
I am just very happy with this CD, and I hope others are as well!
For more information, visit www.ingibjarni.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Ingi Bjarni.
© Debbie Burke 2019