Published January 3, 2014
On Samúel Jón Samúelsson’s retro-styled album ‘4 Hliðar’ (“Four Sides”, as in vinyl), the composer uses an extended album format to give listeners over an hour and a half of funk-laden tunes. The album shows Samúel’s expert orchestrations for his jazz-based ensemble, letting harmonies blend deliciously between trumpets, saxophones, trombones, guitar, bass, and drums.
The main choruses on the album are excellently hum-able, and the improvisations are carefully thought out–there are no players here who’d try to impress you by playing a whole lotta notes, claiming they’re “free jazz.” There are some major funk influences here, for sure, from the Hammond organ in “Order ad Chaos” and the Iceland-ified “Afróbít,” to the hypnotic dub aptly titled “Dubnotica.” While “Ethiopian” veers a little too jam-band, and the 1970s soul sounds can almost seem like game-show music, most of the time you find yourself swaying with the groove that you can’t help but enjoy.
Some of the coolest moments on the album are when the ensemble steps out of its big-band role into something altogether new; you wouldn’t expect a bunch of guys singing dreamy wordless lullabies, but exactly that happens on two tracks. “Falafel” is by far the most unusual track on the album. It begins with an almost electronic riff, and the middle of the track is more like a 1970s rock anthem. The track ends with several minutes of blaring horn tones–not blaring like a Dizzy Gillespie solo, but blaring like the horns of the ships in Reykjavík bay as they pull into the harbour. The effect, like much of this album, is mesmerizing.