íslason is a composer and double bass player based in Iceland. His latest release, Í Allar Áttir En Samt Bara Eina, which he tells me translates as “In all directions but still the same,” features all original compositions. I love music that transports us in some way, and the tracks on this album do that, each one of them. Sometimes they take us into dark and tense places, but the ride is always interesting and the journey certainly worth taking. The music is experimental, but not chaotic. Freysteinn actually creates compelling structures in these pieces. Joining Freysteinn on this album are Helgi R. Heiðarsson on tenor saxophone, Hrafnkell Gauti Sigurðarson on guitar, and Óskar Kjartansson on drums.
The album opens with “Bylur,” and right away an interesting character is established, introduced by the saxophone and bass. There is no hurry here, not at first. There is movement, but it is deliberate, precise. The guitar, however, seems to suggest a warning. Then a couple of minutes in, a corner is turned, and that’s when things really get interesting, the bass leading us into this section. There is some wild work on drums and guitar. A steady rhythm is maintained, but now things have become a bit unhinged. It is like we are trying to maintain some stability in the face of a new onslaught. I love those moments when Óskar Kjartansson lets loose on the drums. And the guitar in particular expresses an intensity, a ferocity, as it drives forward, the saxophone then joining the guitar, two voices shouting into the night, their voices creating bright, burning streaks of light across the landscape. And we get deeper into the madness, and the rhythm turns ominous. Suddenly there is an unexpected break. The rhythm is there, but without as much force behind it. Perhaps the storm is abating, losing its power. And then the track is over.
That is followed by the album’s title track, “Í Allar Áttir En Samt Bara Eina,” and here things are looser at the start, with a delicious lead on bass. We are unsure which direction this piece will go, where it will take us, and that uncertainty draws us in further, while the high-hat is steady, which gives us the impression there will be a more structured center. And then after a minute or so, the other instruments come in and work together, seeming to urge things in a certain, solid direction. Interestingly, when given the chance to respond, the bass returns to that looser flow, the drums following into this less certain realm. The saxophone then leads things back into that other area. It is like two ways of looking at reality. And now the saxophone has a chance to expand its thoughts, itself getting looser, and that darker rhythm creeps up beneath it. Different voices insisting on being heard, each certain of being correct. I love the ending, with the drums and then the bass being the focus before everything comes together one last time.
“Brotsjór” begins in a tense place, things already in motion, the guitar issuing its own warning of sorts, and the saxophone soon adding its voice to that warning. And then suddenly we find ourselves in a mellower place, brought there by the saxophone, as the other instruments momentarily drop out. As they come back in, there is a psychedelic element to the feel, particularly in the guitar work, soothing us in a way where we feel almost drugged. The guitar takes us out farther, where our molecules begin to disperse, spreading out until we cover great expanses of space but are so thin as to be almost completely non-physical. It is at that moment that the bass, a more solid force in the universe, takes over, deep, dark, strong. Interestingly, the guitar then repeats the warning from the beginning, and if we can manage to pull ourselves together, perhaps we can respond. There is some fantastic work on drums, and by the end, everything is together, though the ending itself feels sudden, like caught mid-thought.
“Þriðjudagur” begins in a more pleasant place, putting as at ease, though the guitar work soon introduces more tense aspects to this space, leaving us unsure what to expect. So that slight pause in the action draws us closer, and the saxophone seems eager to soothe again, though perhaps what it is actually doing is mesmerizing us, and then drawing back a curtain to usher us into a darker realm. But that bass lead has a cool, almost funky groove that disarms us, and then leads us into an interesting city realm, where the guitar begins to explain just what is what, a guide that has a lot of information to share. And when the saxophone takes over, our mood changes again, though everything that has come before remains under the surface. We are a collection of experiences and moods, the music seems to remind us, and at any moment something different could rise to prominence. And when that gentle, pleasant feel from the beginning once again emerges, we are soothed, now optimistic that we can maintain a positive outlook, that our inner and outer worlds will reflect this more peaceful and hopeful sound. The music provides a reminder that we can get through the darker moments.
The saxophone begins “Samnúningur,” but it is the work beneath it that sets us at unease. Then approximately a minute in, the bass leads the piece in a different direction, and the guitar opens up, ready to explore, or at least to send its voice on ahead like an announcement to the stars and to whatever may lie beyond. But then the message turns in on itself, and it feels like rather than reaching out, it is simply enjoying creating the message, which is interesting. And we return to the opening section, the sax stretching out more now, beginning to dance, to enjoy itself. The album then concludes with “Á Milli Hluta,” which immediately puts us into a weird place. The bass, as it walks, is familiar and cool, but the other instruments interject with a brashness, a harsh insistence. The first time I didn’t hear it this way, but the second time I listened to this track, I found them almost comical at moments, those interjections. It feels that one or the other vibe will be triumphant, and it is that harsher sound that seems to take over, at least for a time. But the bass is able to continue, even as the other voices drop out for a moment. Then the guitar and saxophone rise in power, demanding their thoughts be heard, and as we wonder just where they might lead us, the piece comes to its end.
CD Track List
- Í Allar Áttir En Samt Bara Eina
- Á Milli Hluta
Í Allar Áttir En Samt Bara Eina was released on April 29, 2023.