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Mikael Mani Trio - Bobby Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years. Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will have much more to say.

Mikael Mani Trio

“Bobby”

(Smekkleysa Records MM001CD)


Mikael Mani Asmundsson – guitar, Skuli Sverrisson – bass, Magnus Trygvason Eliassen – drums, vibraphone


Mikael Mani Asmundsson is a young Icelandic guitarist and composer. His début album appears on the Reykjavik based label Smekkleysa and is also available as a vinyl LP.

The enigmatically titled “Bobby” is a semi-conceptual work featuring compositions inspired by the life of Bobby Fischer (1943 - 2008), the American born former chess champion who famously won the 1972 World Chess Championship, defeating Boris Spassky of the then Soviet Union at a match held in the neutral venue of Reykjavik.

Perhaps the most famous chess match in history Fischer v. Spassky took place at the height of the Cold War and was depicted as a battle of ideologies rather than as just a game of chess.

The location of that famous match has ensured that Fischer has remained a significant figure in Icelandic culture. Indeed, he actually lived in Reykjavik for the final three years of his life and is buried there.

Mani, who is far too young to personally remember the Fischer / Spassky match, was inspired by his reading of Fischer’s autobiography. For all his success as a chess champion Fischer was a troubled and reclusive figure, who at one point virtually withdrew from society altogether.

Mani says of his Fischer inspired compositions;
“The songs on the album are influenced by the characteristics and periods in the life of Bobby Fischer;  the creativity, mystery, insecurities, distrust for other people and the short periods in his life when everything seemed to be going the right way”.

Mani himself comes from a musical family, his father running a record label and record shop. After learning from some of Iceland’s leading jazz musicians he moved to Holland to study at the Amsterdam Conservatory, graduating as recently as 2018. He is currently based in Stockholm.

Mani names his jazz guitar heroes as being Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Joe Pass and Lage Lund and he also draws inspiration from the works of jazz pianist Bill Evans, classical composer Claude Debussy and the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros.

In 2017 released the album “Marina and Mikael”, a duo recording made with the Icelandic vocalist Marina Osk, with whom he first performed in 2014. Mani also plays with the international quartet Epsilon Eridani, a group formed with fellow students at Amsterdam Conservatory.  Meanwhile his solo project Lyrics Through Music features arrangements of Bob Dylan songs transposed for performance by solo jazz guitar.

“Bobby” features Mani leading an all Icelandic trio featuring bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer/vibraphonist Magnus Trygvason Eliassen. Guest musician David Por Davidsson appears on one piece, also playing vibraphone.

The cover photographs for the “Bobby” album were taken at the Bokavaroan bookshop in Reykjavik, where Fischer would go several days a week to study books and play chess. The pictures were taken by the famous Icelandic photographer, Spessi.

Mani’s album notes offer insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions. The title of the opening “Board Games” refers to the infant Fischer’s obsession with puzzles and board games, particularly chess. The music attempts to “capture the childlike joy when you forget yourself in the world of your passion”. Playing his favourite Gibson ES 175 Mani favours an orthodox jazz guitar sound and his darting, elegant runs and sophisticated chording are complemented by the springy counterpoint of Sverrisson’s bass and Eliassen’s deft, brisk, highly colourful drumming. It’s a particularly well calibrated trio performance with the neatly detailed drumming complementing the neat interplay between guitar and bass.

“Sol” references Fischer’s notoriously troubled personality and is intended to describe “a person that is controlled by his emotions” and whose strong feelings “sabotage his relationships”. Nevertheless much of the delicacy and intricacy that characterised the opening track remains, Mani continues to favour a clean jazz guitar sound while Eliassen actually deploys brushes in the tune’s early stages, and later adds a little vibraphone too. Subsequently a hint of dissonance creeps in, but it’s very subtle, there is no sudden character change, instead an almost imperceptible shift of mood.

“Reykjavik 1972” is introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, subsequently joined by bass and drums. The solo guitar passage is intended to reflect Fischer focussing, concentrating and generally getting ‘into the zone’ just before the Spassky match. The main melodic theme, with its two bar phrase followed by a two bar rest, reflects the rhythm of the play, while the improvised passage featuring Mani’s guitar soloing and his interaction with the bass and drums is intended to mirror the unpredictable ebb and flow of a game of chess. The gentle coda represents Fischer returning to something approaching normality after the intense concentration and absorption of the match.

The famously unpredictable Fischer held some pretty extreme political views and during the course of a brilliant but erratic career he managed to upset both the governing bodies of chess and the US government itself.  Consequently he spent much of his life as an emigree, roaming the world before finally settling in Iceland.

The next four pieces are presented as a kind of ‘suite’ and depict the period when Fischer lived in Hungary, cared for by a family of Hungarian chess enthusiasts at their country compound.

“First Impression of a Fragile Man” depicts the family welcoming a fragile Fischer into their home, still tolerant of his unconventional ways. It’s a short, spacious, delicate solo guitar piece, during which each note seems to hang in the air.

“Lend Me Your Finger and I’ll Take Your Whole Arm” sees the relationship begin to sour with Fischer daring to express his extreme anti-Semitic views to his Jewish hosts. The music is still gentle with Mani’s guitar joining in an absorbing dialogue with Sverrisson’s bass, the low frequencies of the latter adding a subtly ominous air to the music.

“Wishing You Were Wrong”  depicts the family still caring for Fischer despite his increasingly erratic behaviour. The music reflects this, being more fragmentary and freely structured, with Mani making use of live looping techniques as Sverrisson solos on bass and Eliassen adds atmospheric percussive punctuation and colouring.

Fischer eventually left the Hungarian family without saying either goodbye or thanks. “Betrayal of an Insecure Soul” portrays this episode, a gentle Frisell like shuffle eventually punctured by a clangorous dissonance as Mani deploys real distortion on his guitar for the first time.

Title track “Bobby” was actually the first composition to be written for the album. It was inspired by the incident when Fischer was arrested at Tokyo airport for carrying an illegal US passport. He spent six months in jail before settling in Iceland as a refugee. The music picks up the mantle of the previous track with its atmospheric guitar effects and the use of mysterious, uncredited wordless vocals. The subsequent interplay between guitar, bass and drums is characteristically spacious and unhurried with the three musicians again displaying an astonishing degree of empathy. The latter stages of the piece find the music briefly gravitating into more of a rock direction via the use of guitar washes and those wordless vocals once more. For the first time we hear that acknowledged Sigur Ros influence.

Guest musician Davidsson adds shimmering vibraphone to the lilting “Tie Your Hopes Down”, a gentle piece that is intended to reflect those moments of Fischer’s life when things actually seemed to be going right for him. Sverrissons richly melodic bass playing is also a key component of this piece, as is Eliassen’s busy, but gentle and colourful, percussion. Once again the level of interplay between the members of the core trio is exceptional, with Davidsson adding an extra dash of fairy dust.

Closing track “Down in the Well” brings another source of inspiration to the table. The composition takes it title from a chapter in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, a novel by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In Murakami’s book the protagonist goes down in a well to be alone with his thoughts, a process that Mani compares with Fischer’s withdrawal from competitive chess and society in general following his 1972 triumph in Reykjavik. This is actually the album’s longest piece and the mood is suitably contemplative and unhurried with the track ushered in by a leisurely passage of unaccompanied guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter the proceedings and the trio embark on a near seven minute journey of low key but deeply concentrated interaction, the piece finally resolving itself with a final brief passage of solo guitar.

I realise that in writing this review I’ve included a fair amount of biographical detail regarding Fischer, but I should stress that one doesn’t need to know anything about the background of this recording to appreciate the music in its own right. Although this is obviously a very personal album for Mani the conceptual framework is loose enough for the music to breathe, and there is no sense of it being in any way programmatic.

The most impressive aspect of this recording is the carefully balanced interplay between the members of the trio, each one a distinctive instrumental voice in their own right, but also part of a supremely coherent whole. Mani’s fluent and elegant guitar combines superbly with Sverrisson’s melodic bass and Eliassen’s delicately detailed and consistently colourful and inventive drumming. Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years.

If there’s a criticism it’s that it’s all a little bit too polite and tasteful, and ultimately a little bloodless. Having declared that the music is an enjoyable entity in its own right I can’t ignore the fact that it is inspired by the life of the famously turbulent and unpredictable Fischer. However little of the enigmatic chess champion’s personal angst comes out in the music and there were times when I was crying out for a few rough edges to more accurately reflect the flawed character of the man who inspired the music.

For all that Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will doubtless have much else to say. I look forward to hearing more from him and his trio colleagues in the future.

Bobby

Mikael Mani Trio

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Bobby

Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years. Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will have much more to say.

Mikael Mani Trio

“Bobby”

(Smekkleysa Records MM001CD)


Mikael Mani Asmundsson – guitar, Skuli Sverrisson – bass, Magnus Trygvason Eliassen – drums, vibraphone


Mikael Mani Asmundsson is a young Icelandic guitarist and composer. His début album appears on the Reykjavik based label Smekkleysa and is also available as a vinyl LP.

The enigmatically titled “Bobby” is a semi-conceptual work featuring compositions inspired by the life of Bobby Fischer (1943 - 2008), the American born former chess champion who famously won the 1972 World Chess Championship, defeating Boris Spassky of the then Soviet Union at a match held in the neutral venue of Reykjavik.

Perhaps the most famous chess match in history Fischer v. Spassky took place at the height of the Cold War and was depicted as a battle of ideologies rather than as just a game of chess.

The location of that famous match has ensured that Fischer has remained a significant figure in Icelandic culture. Indeed, he actually lived in Reykjavik for the final three years of his life and is buried there.

Mani, who is far too young to personally remember the Fischer / Spassky match, was inspired by his reading of Fischer’s autobiography. For all his success as a chess champion Fischer was a troubled and reclusive figure, who at one point virtually withdrew from society altogether.

Mani says of his Fischer inspired compositions;
“The songs on the album are influenced by the characteristics and periods in the life of Bobby Fischer;  the creativity, mystery, insecurities, distrust for other people and the short periods in his life when everything seemed to be going the right way”.

Mani himself comes from a musical family, his father running a record label and record shop. After learning from some of Iceland’s leading jazz musicians he moved to Holland to study at the Amsterdam Conservatory, graduating as recently as 2018. He is currently based in Stockholm.

Mani names his jazz guitar heroes as being Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Joe Pass and Lage Lund and he also draws inspiration from the works of jazz pianist Bill Evans, classical composer Claude Debussy and the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros.

In 2017 released the album “Marina and Mikael”, a duo recording made with the Icelandic vocalist Marina Osk, with whom he first performed in 2014. Mani also plays with the international quartet Epsilon Eridani, a group formed with fellow students at Amsterdam Conservatory.  Meanwhile his solo project Lyrics Through Music features arrangements of Bob Dylan songs transposed for performance by solo jazz guitar.

“Bobby” features Mani leading an all Icelandic trio featuring bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer/vibraphonist Magnus Trygvason Eliassen. Guest musician David Por Davidsson appears on one piece, also playing vibraphone.

The cover photographs for the “Bobby” album were taken at the Bokavaroan bookshop in Reykjavik, where Fischer would go several days a week to study books and play chess. The pictures were taken by the famous Icelandic photographer, Spessi.

Mani’s album notes offer insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions. The title of the opening “Board Games” refers to the infant Fischer’s obsession with puzzles and board games, particularly chess. The music attempts to “capture the childlike joy when you forget yourself in the world of your passion”. Playing his favourite Gibson ES 175 Mani favours an orthodox jazz guitar sound and his darting, elegant runs and sophisticated chording are complemented by the springy counterpoint of Sverrisson’s bass and Eliassen’s deft, brisk, highly colourful drumming. It’s a particularly well calibrated trio performance with the neatly detailed drumming complementing the neat interplay between guitar and bass.

“Sol” references Fischer’s notoriously troubled personality and is intended to describe “a person that is controlled by his emotions” and whose strong feelings “sabotage his relationships”. Nevertheless much of the delicacy and intricacy that characterised the opening track remains, Mani continues to favour a clean jazz guitar sound while Eliassen actually deploys brushes in the tune’s early stages, and later adds a little vibraphone too. Subsequently a hint of dissonance creeps in, but it’s very subtle, there is no sudden character change, instead an almost imperceptible shift of mood.

“Reykjavik 1972” is introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, subsequently joined by bass and drums. The solo guitar passage is intended to reflect Fischer focussing, concentrating and generally getting ‘into the zone’ just before the Spassky match. The main melodic theme, with its two bar phrase followed by a two bar rest, reflects the rhythm of the play, while the improvised passage featuring Mani’s guitar soloing and his interaction with the bass and drums is intended to mirror the unpredictable ebb and flow of a game of chess. The gentle coda represents Fischer returning to something approaching normality after the intense concentration and absorption of the match.

The famously unpredictable Fischer held some pretty extreme political views and during the course of a brilliant but erratic career he managed to upset both the governing bodies of chess and the US government itself.  Consequently he spent much of his life as an emigree, roaming the world before finally settling in Iceland.

The next four pieces are presented as a kind of ‘suite’ and depict the period when Fischer lived in Hungary, cared for by a family of Hungarian chess enthusiasts at their country compound.

“First Impression of a Fragile Man” depicts the family welcoming a fragile Fischer into their home, still tolerant of his unconventional ways. It’s a short, spacious, delicate solo guitar piece, during which each note seems to hang in the air.

“Lend Me Your Finger and I’ll Take Your Whole Arm” sees the relationship begin to sour with Fischer daring to express his extreme anti-Semitic views to his Jewish hosts. The music is still gentle with Mani’s guitar joining in an absorbing dialogue with Sverrisson’s bass, the low frequencies of the latter adding a subtly ominous air to the music.

“Wishing You Were Wrong”  depicts the family still caring for Fischer despite his increasingly erratic behaviour. The music reflects this, being more fragmentary and freely structured, with Mani making use of live looping techniques as Sverrisson solos on bass and Eliassen adds atmospheric percussive punctuation and colouring.

Fischer eventually left the Hungarian family without saying either goodbye or thanks. “Betrayal of an Insecure Soul” portrays this episode, a gentle Frisell like shuffle eventually punctured by a clangorous dissonance as Mani deploys real distortion on his guitar for the first time.

Title track “Bobby” was actually the first composition to be written for the album. It was inspired by the incident when Fischer was arrested at Tokyo airport for carrying an illegal US passport. He spent six months in jail before settling in Iceland as a refugee. The music picks up the mantle of the previous track with its atmospheric guitar effects and the use of mysterious, uncredited wordless vocals. The subsequent interplay between guitar, bass and drums is characteristically spacious and unhurried with the three musicians again displaying an astonishing degree of empathy. The latter stages of the piece find the music briefly gravitating into more of a rock direction via the use of guitar washes and those wordless vocals once more. For the first time we hear that acknowledged Sigur Ros influence.

Guest musician Davidsson adds shimmering vibraphone to the lilting “Tie Your Hopes Down”, a gentle piece that is intended to reflect those moments of Fischer’s life when things actually seemed to be going right for him. Sverrissons richly melodic bass playing is also a key component of this piece, as is Eliassen’s busy, but gentle and colourful, percussion. Once again the level of interplay between the members of the core trio is exceptional, with Davidsson adding an extra dash of fairy dust.

Closing track “Down in the Well” brings another source of inspiration to the table. The composition takes it title from a chapter in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, a novel by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In Murakami’s book the protagonist goes down in a well to be alone with his thoughts, a process that Mani compares with Fischer’s withdrawal from competitive chess and society in general following his 1972 triumph in Reykjavik. This is actually the album’s longest piece and the mood is suitably contemplative and unhurried with the track ushered in by a leisurely passage of unaccompanied guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter the proceedings and the trio embark on a near seven minute journey of low key but deeply concentrated interaction, the piece finally resolving itself with a final brief passage of solo guitar.

I realise that in writing this review I’ve included a fair amount of biographical detail regarding Fischer, but I should stress that one doesn’t need to know anything about the background of this recording to appreciate the music in its own right. Although this is obviously a very personal album for Mani the conceptual framework is loose enough for the music to breathe, and there is no sense of it being in any way programmatic.

The most impressive aspect of this recording is the carefully balanced interplay between the members of the trio, each one a distinctive instrumental voice in their own right, but also part of a supremely coherent whole. Mani’s fluent and elegant guitar combines superbly with Sverrisson’s melodic bass and Eliassen’s delicately detailed and consistently colourful and inventive drumming. Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years.

If there’s a criticism it’s that it’s all a little bit too polite and tasteful, and ultimately a little bloodless. Having declared that the music is an enjoyable entity in its own right I can’t ignore the fact that it is inspired by the life of the famously turbulent and unpredictable Fischer. However little of the enigmatic chess champion’s personal angst comes out in the music and there were times when I was crying out for a few rough edges to more accurately reflect the flawed character of the man who inspired the music.

For all that Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will doubtless have much else to say. I look forward to hearing more from him and his trio colleagues in the future.


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