He also is a true “friend of Iceland,” as we say ‘round these parts, having performed in Iceland many times before, working with Gus Gus (who covered his track, “Call Of The Wild,” which became a major hit on Reykjavík’s dance floors a decade ago) and Samúel Jón Samúelsson, among others. And he is currently working on an album with the Icelandic reggae band Hjálmar.
I had heard that he sometimes performed with a large band, so I didn’t know quite what to expect when I arrived at The Nordic House for his Reykjavík show. The setup was a grand piano, a synthesizer and a table full of gadgets with a spaghetti bowl of cables and wires. He came to the stage alone, paler than ale, sporting silky blond hair, a Prince Valiant haircut and nerdy hipster horn rimmed glasses.
A FINNISH RON BURGUNDY
With no introduction, he began fiddling and twisting knobs and KAOS pads producing a heady brew of trippy ambient dub stylings. The next song was an upbeat jazzy house cut and after setting some loops in motion he headed to the synthesizer and started singing.
“My mind is an open book to you,” he crooned like a blue-eyed soul singer, his voice silky smooth and tender. It reminded me a bit of his Norwegian neighbour, Erlend Øye. At one point in the song he even picked up a jazz flute and played an off-the-wall solo, like a Finnish Ron Burgundy.
A HARMLESS MAD SCIENTIST
His whole approach was improvisational, off kilter and playful. Like the happy kind of mad scientist. He wandered between the grand piano, synthesizer, saxophone and his giant table of electronic gizmos. Sometimes he sang a line and then immediately responded to it with a melody on the flute or the saxophone. Most of the songs had vocals but often he didn’t sing into the mic, just sort of hummed it half heartily to himself while he was dancing between the instruments or fondling his sound machines.
The lyrics were simple and repetitive, like lines from old soul songs. He should be way too white and Nordic to be singing lines likes “I gotta go downtown, to get that money,” but somehow he made it sound sincere.
A FUTURISTIC FRANK SINATRA
“Call of the Wild” was a high point of the show, starting with an off beat free jazz solo on the grand piano and morphing into a wonderfully slow summer jam. In the middle of it he did a solo on the saxophone that was half way crossed between muted silences and wild outbursts. His songs are sort of naïve in vocals and melody but complex in craft, construction and arrangement. The last song of the set sounded like a 22nd century Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. It was a pure futuristic Las Vegas crooning: “Beyond the moon, beyond the stars.”
Not all of the parts were amazing, a couple of songs were sort of aimless and few others went on a bit too long but it was never short of interesting. I will definitely dip my toes into his catalogue in the nearest possible future; it sounds like a great soundtrack to a midsummer sauna.
Jimi Tenor played at Nordic House on August 17. See what’s on there by visiting www.nordice.is