Mikael Máni: Nostalgia Machine

Icelandic guitarist is compared to Jim Hall but his music contains elements of rock, folk and classical impressionism as well

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Icelandic guitarist Mikael Máni Ásmundsson (b.1995) proudly occupies a space between musical genres. As a soloist his warm tones and jinking melodic lines are frequently compared to Jim Hall, but his music, which he describes as “Jarm”, embraces elements of rock, folk and classical impressionism too.

His debut album Bobby (2019), a sensitive portrait of flawed chess genius Bobby Fischer, placed him at the helm of a pared-back trio with Skúli Sverrisson and drummer Elíassen. While the music should broadly appeal to fans of Scofield, Rosenwinkel and the Lages (Julian and Lund) alike, Máni emerges as a player with a personal agenda.

Returning with a versatile new five-piece, the guitarist has a considerably expanded sonic palette at his disposal. In the album notes Máni speaks of his desire to reconnect with music long buried in his sub-conscious, and in some respects Nostalgia Machine comes across as a loving re-contextualisation of the classic sounds and voicings of the late 50s chamber jazz of Hamilton, Shearing, Giuffre et al.

The title track announces its arrival with the chimes of the metallophone. Its opening segment could have sounded twee in less capable hands. Instead Máni sets the stage for a vaguely cinematic ballad, and as clarinet, piano, voice and mildly distorted guitar intertwine, the essential ingredients of “Jarm” are laid bare. Máni’s previously acknowledged debt to the pastoral soundscapes of Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós is never far from view, but nor are the revered jazz traditions of thematic improvisation, composition and arrangement.

Elsewhere I was particularly taken by Trying To Stay Afloat, which stops, starts, twists and turns like classic Gary Burton. Two Sisters has a warm Latin undercurrent, while Ani is darker and more experimental, the ghostly echoes of a vintage music box bridging into an unexpectedly jagged psych-rock sequence. Be Still, Sinking Heart finds the multi-talented Ásmundsdóttir at her most romantic, and if traditional virtuosity is your thing Last Stop sees Máni’s chromatic lines at their most dazzling.

Shaped by the guiding hand of the redoubtable Matt Pierson, Nostalgia Machine is an album with a strong identity, and it leaves a lasting impression long after the final note has rung.

Discography
Nostalgia Machine; Trying To Stay Afloat; Let’s Start At The Beginning; Two Sisters; Ani; I Want To Know Better; Almost There; My Day With Pierre; Last Stop Before Final Destination; Be Still, Sinking Heart; The Attic (55.00)
Máni (g, elg) with: Lilja Maria Ásmundsdóttir (p, kyb, metallophone, vn, elec); Sölvi Kolbeinsson (as, cl); Ingibjörg Turchi (elb); Magnús Trygvason Elíassen (d, pc). No date, c. 2021.
Smekkleysa SMJ 12CD