Mikael Máni’s chess-world inspirations

The Icelandic guitarist realised that a recent reading of Bobby Fischer's biography was driving his new compositions


Chess might not on the surface seem a natural bedfellow for jazz but Icelandic guitarist Mikael Máni found inspiration for Bobby, the new album by his trio, in the biography of grand chess master Bobby Fischer. He said: “One October evening when I was playing my guitar, the melody of the title track of the album came to me almost fully formed. At that time I wasn’t sure what the song was about, how it was related to my life and what it was doing in my head. It wasn’t until later that it became clear to me that the song was inspired by a certain man that I had been captivated by for some time”.

The music isn’t driven by the political ramifications of Fischer’s famous victory over the Russian Boris Spassky in 1972 in the midst of the Cold War, but is rather a meditation on the themes evoked by Fischer’s complicated life and struggles. Máni adds: “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”.

The trio features three Icelandic players – the renowned Skúli Sverisson (bass, formerly with Allan Holdsworth) and Magnús Trygvason Elíassen (drums and vibraphone). Mikael said of them: “They both have this improviser stamp on them, which is great. But their attention to detail on the arrangements was really deep. I’ve never experienced that before. I felt when I was working with them that the composition that’s on the paper is only 40% of what the song ends up being”.

The atmosphere of the 10 pieces on the record – in keeping perhaps with chess – is predominantly ruminative. Máni’s intimate guitar voice often echoes that of Jim Hall, and the image has been drawn of Bill Evans listening to Sigur Rós. Yet Máni also references “the Django Reinhardt school of rhythmic progression” and at times it’s brisk, bright and energetic. It’s mostly jazz but its broad palette suggests it might appeal also to fans of Tortoise, Nick Drake or Lambchop.

Bobby is issued on Smekkleysa (aka Bad Taste), one of Iceland’s most prominent record labels, the same one that launched The Sugarcubes – a band led by Einar Örn and Björk – and has released Sigur Rós and other well-known Icelandic artists.

Read more about the Mikael Máni Trio or buy the album.

This article was prepared with the assistance of the promoter.