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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Björk: Gling-Gló


1) Gling Gló; 2) Luktar-Gvendur; 3) Kata Rokkar; 4) Pabbi Minn; 5) Brestir Og Brak; 6) Ástartröfrar; 7) Bella Símamær; 8) Litli Tónlistarmaðurinn; 9) Það Sést Ekki Sætari Mey; 10) Bílavísur; 11) Tondeleyo; 12) Ég Veit Ei Hvað Skal Segja; 13) Í Dansi Með Þér; 14) Börnin Við Tjörnina; 15) Ruby Baby; 16) I Can't Help Loving That Man.

Although this album is usually regarded as a historic oddity, it deserves more than just a passing mention — and stimulates some curious thoughts, too. It was recorded by Björk somewhat «en passant», in the later stage of her serving as a member of The Sugarcubes, together with a local Icelandic jazz combo, Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, and is technically defined as a collaboration, but, naturally, 99.9% of the population were only aware of this album's existence in retrospect. I mean, as solid as the local Icelandic jazz scene might be, it is not highly likely that an inter­national audience might develop a strong taste for it. But Björk singing jazz? Now that actually sounds like a promising idea.

And indeed, this «historical curio» is a wonderful listen in its own way. Traditional jazz voca­lizing had al­ways been a big influence on Björk's style (although not nearly as direct as «avant­garde» vocalizing à la Tim Buckley), so it is quite refreshing to hear some of the oldies getting the quintessential «Björk treatment». All the material is actually being sung in Icelandic (except for two bonus tracks, taken from the rehearsal sessions and tacked on to the end), but even so, most of it is either translated from English, or is presented as «original» compositions that really just sound like variations on ye olde pre-war or early post-war material.

My simple and unoriginal stance on the «Great American Songbook» and its offshoots has always been that it does not matter as much whether the «song» is great in and out of itself (written by the same professional gang of songwriters, the sheet music tends to be of generally comparable quality); what matters is who sings the stuff — Billie Holiday or Barbra Streisand, that kind of thing. Now if you know Björk's classic material, you can make a pretty good guess that there is going to be a lot of breathiness, screeching, roaring, dissonant modulation, and, most importantly, high-pitched «childish» intonations. And in the context of a traditional vocal jazz setting, it all makes the material come alive like never before. «Vocal jazz» is being transformed into «vocal punk-jazz» before your very eyes.

The musicianship of the trio I am not prepared to judge. The pianist, whose name also labelled the entire combo, seems quite fluent and sensitive (eerily, he seems to have died just one year after the album's release), and the rhythm section swings just like the doctor ordered, but they all seem quite conservative in approach — which is good, because it allows us to fully focus on the contrast between predictable arrangements and Björk's thoroughly unorthodox behavior. There is no jamming whatsoever — a few solos here and there, but none of that usual attitude where the singer is being viewed as just one more lead instrument, and gets the same amount of time as the saxophone, or the piano, or even the bass: all the songs are relatively brief, and Björk is the shi­ning star on each and every one of them.

Searching for individual highlights is futile. More likely, some people will be more attracted to the slow, sensual ballads, some will fall for the kiddie Christmasy stuff like the title track; and the majority will hold on to the fast, swingin' tracks on which the little lady likes to practice her lionine roar. A couple of the songs may be too cute (like the final Icelandic number, driven by harmonica and shaped like a nursery rhyme for very small children), but that is not a big problem in the light of how vivacious, brimming with positive energy, optimism, and tasty traces of icono­clasm this whole thing is. In a way, I almost feel sad that Björk did not release something like this after achieving her «diva» status — a lightweight, unabashedly fun record like this would be a perfectly placed «breather» in between some of her heavier outings (imagine following Homoge­nic, let alone Medulla, up with such a hooliganish Irving Berlin tribute!). But certainly good or bad timing will never affect the ultimate thumbs up rating.

1 comment:

  1. I like this album and it works as an album of its own (as compared to her debut album and her works in KUKL); happy to see the thumbs up. My favorite is the title track and Bella Símamær.