A Touch of Iceland

On Twitter recently, Sigurdór Guðmundsson (@siggidori) occasionally mentions the band Amalgam.

“How about some 5/8 groove to get you going?” he asked recently. Who’s going to say no to that?

Grindli,” the song in question, is a bright, perky 5/8 with a blazing, fluid sax solo atop some chirpy rhythm jazz guitar and ecstatic drumming.  I heard that, and wanted to explore more.

It’s part of a demo album the band shared for free on Last.fm back in 2004. Alas, Amalgam might be no more; the blog that Guðmundsson had organized hasn’t been updated since 2006. At least their sound gets to live on.

Amalgam is/was a Danish/Icelandic mix of a band, with a colorful front line of guitar, sax, and trumpet, backed by bass and drums. They’re very much a jazz group, as evidenced by the velvety sound on ballads like “Fyrir Svefnin.” And the heart flutters at the very ’60s horns opening the gentle “You Turn.”

They’ve got modern ambition in their composing and arranging, though, and it really comes through on the cautiously paced “Lómurinn.” It opens with quiet improv before dropping into a nice jazz groove with electric bass. Early on, there’s a guitar solo with electric bass and drums, kind of a prog power trio moving along casually, not in a hurry to spell out the logic they’re trying to convey.

I’ll admit I haven’t listened to every track yet, but “Dance of the Drunken Pixie” (because, come on, you’re going to go straight for that title first, aren’t you?) is probably as far-out as they get, with a breakdown segment that has one sax blaring abrasively before dropping into a quiet drum solo, like arriving at the bottom of a pit.

This is sharp stuff. Take a few minutes, give it a listen.