Andres Thor ~ Mónókróm

We don’t tend to cover much jazz on A Closer Listen, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy listening to it, and Mónókróm, the new album from Andres Thor has proved quite the office favourite. It’s not an all-out fully be-bopped attack on the senses, either, but is closer in spirit to the Scandinavian jazz that ECM Records put out; quiet, reflective, meditative but with a certain spark and swing to it. Plus Andres hails from Iceland and as readers may be aware, we’re well disposed towards that nation.

The quartet is centred around Thor, a guitarist who understands the concept of ‘less is more’ and avoids flashy solos or fret-based pyrotechnics – indeed it seems he’s something of a recluse when it comes to stepping forward as he’s more content to play the melody line on a track like “Heima”, rather than excessively improvise around the theme, and then switches to a steel guitar to allow Agnar Mar Magnússon to solo on piano. As group leader and writer of the pieces, Thor could be all over this music like a nasty rash but instead he displays admirable restraint and a willingness to let the notes breath.

Credit must go to the rhythm section too; bassist Thorgrímur Jónsson underpins the playing of the lead instruments with not just strength but subtlety, resisting the urge to solo for the most part but happy to provide a firm foundation. Scott McLemore is credited, brilliantly, with ‘trommur & slagverk’; showing a light touch on the drums, he propels many of the pieces along with little more than the ride cymbal or a brushed snare. He comes into his own on the funkier “1922” where he dubs percussion on top of his busy drums, which is a brighter change of pace to liven Mónókróm up midway through.

Of course, the star of the show is Thor himself, showcasing a variety of styles to his playing, and making use of multi-track recording to throw in a few thoughtful extra parts into the mix. Whilst clearly making a jazz record, he’s equally happy to throw in a few extra musical elements, in the shape of lap- and pedal-steel guitars, to add a country/bluegrass dimension to the tunes. The album’s title suggests that this is a record that is full of grey textures, but the variety within gives the listener a full chromatic range. Admittedly Mónókróm might not sit comfortably alongside the field recordings or dubstep we cover elsewhere on the site but it’s a fine record and is an ideal salve late at night after a stressful day, when one can unwind and let the music carry your worries away. (Jeremy Bye)

Available here

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