“Meridian Metaphor” is the second album that the Icelandic bassist and composer Sigmar Matthiason has released as leader. A fascinating mix of East-meets-West contemporary jazz, the bassist’s choice of band members and instrumentation makes for a compellingly characterful set of tunes.
Bassist Mattiasson is joined by Ásgeir Ásgeirsson – oud & tamboura, Haukur Gröndal – clarinet, Ingi Bjarni Skúlason – piano, Matthías Hemstock – drums, and special guests Ayman Boujlida – konnakol & percussion, and Taulant Mehmeti – çifteli. The music they make together is infused with influences from Balkan folk music and Arabic world music, creating a colourful palette of fluid, languid, beatific lyricism.
The inspiration for the project was Matthiasson’s collaboration and friendship with two musicians whom he met while studying in New York City – guitarist Taulant Mehmeti from Kosovo and Tunisian percussionist Ayman Boujlida. The way this project has come together so well speaks volumes of the composer and his band, cross-cultural music stretching across the Prime Meridian, where the composer makes up musical metaphors in each song with various references to people, places and experiences which have shaped him over time.
Born in Reykjavik, Matthiasson has been an active performer on the Icelandic music scene for several years, performing and/or recording with many of the most in-demand pop and jazz musicians in Iceland. In addition, the bassist has performed at many international festivals, including London Jazz Festival, Oslo Jazz Festival, Jazz Finland Festival in Helsinki, Bern Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Nordic Jazz Festival in Washington DC and Reykjavík Jazz Festival. His last project called ÁRÓRA plays Matthiasson’s original music. Debuting at the Reykjavík Jazz Festival in 2014, in 2018 the band celebrated the release of their self-titled debut album.
Matthiasson’s style reminds me a little of Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson. He shares the same penchant for a great melody, allowing time and space for his fellow musicians to weave their magic in and around the heart of a tune. The album opener “Don” is a prime example of this, with the composer’s bass leading the tune into its twisting, lilting melodies, with oud and clarinet taking the lead and developing the Arabic feel of the tune in alluring fashion.
There’s always a deep groove sitting behind the melody on Matthiasson’s music. Often soft and understated, yet always the backbone of a tune. Listening to “Berlin Becalhau” delivering its gentle passion, “East River” as it lyrically unwinds and unravels, or “Mehmetaphor” with its delightful journey of discovery, makes me think how well certain artists can blend together different styles of music and arrange their instrumentation in such a way that it sounds like it was always meant to be. Perhaps this in its own way is the perfect metaphor for life in general; embrace your fellow man, whatever cultural background he may be from, and with care, respect, learning and understanding, beautiful things can happen.
“Meridian Metaphor” works extremely well as an album. The beguiling beauty of the music draws you in, leaving you enchanted by its wonderful melodies and musicianship. On this evidence I’m sure there will be much more to come from Sigmar Por Matthiasson, and I very much look forward to hearing where his music takes him to in the years ahead.