Friday, July 19, 2013

Sunna Gunnlaugs: Distilled

Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano)
Distilled (Sunny Sky; 2013)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Thorgrimur Jonsson (bass)

Sunna Gunnlaugs has always brought a wonderful balance of European and American influences to her work. Her recent trio session, Long Pair Bond is a great example of her growing vision and creativity. But the new an just released, Distilled, is probably the brightest of all her releases to date. While I have compared Gunnlaugs to Jarrett and Hersch, on Distilled, her freshness reminds me of a younger Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones or even Harold Mabern.

The session is performed by the same Long Pair Bond trio of McLemore, Gunnlaugs and Thorgimur. But here, they all feel free and seem to be having a blast in the studio. I got the sense on Long Pair Bond, but with Distilled it just seems like they really felt comfortable with each composers material and have played together so long that this might have been the session they were dreaming about the night before they step into the studio.

"Momento" is the lovely late night opening that could accompany the sultry walk of your special love as you both meet for the first time. Gunnlaugs keys are playful but romantic. Thorgimur and McLemore add the soft but sensual backbeat. "Distilled" and "Switcheroo" both ballads in nature, present opportunities for the trio to stretch and extend conversations. Gunnlaugs does a sweet calculation of notes on "Distilled" which feels like a soothing llulaby. While "Switcheroo" sees each member speaking to one another in improvised tones that will make the listener laugh as well as sit in a little bit of bluesy awe at how stunning the musicianship is on the piece.

"Things You Should Know" has the authenticity and folkish quality that Gunnlaugs seems to have gained form her current tours of the East Coast of the U.S. But Gunnlaugs energy and song structures make for a perfectly constructed midtempo cross country journey. I loved the loneliness of "Opposite Side." This is very much my favourite track on the record. The conversation between Thorgimur and Gunnlaugs is sublime and is only enhanced by slow brush tones from McLemore's kit. A real delicate and beautiful display molded into a five minute love poem.

With Distilled, Sunna Gunnlaugs takes one more impressive step in solidifying her name amongst many in the jazz community, as one to watch out for. While many of my favourite pianists perform in the more free form or minimalist tradition; Gunnlaugs, like Fred Hersch, keeps the creativity of a traditionalist alive. But with a unique style and verve. Distilled is another brilliant example of that and more. Highly, highly recommended.

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