Mikael Máni appears on the screen, fresh-faced and smiling from amongst the digital distortion of a slow Skype connection. He’s in his current hometown of Stockholm, where he lives with his jazz singer girlfriend as she studies for her MA.
Back home in Iceland, his debut album—’Bobby’ by the Mikael Máni Trio, of which he’s the primary composer, band leader and guitarist—is about to be released. He seems relaxed, happy, and optimistic about the record. “It was recorded September 29th and 30th last year, at Sundlaugin,” he says. “It’s my first album of original compositions. So it feels personal.”
Whilst the album is primarily jazz, it has an atmospheric, melodic richness that suggests it could also sit comfortably in the record collections of Tortoise, Nick Drake or Lambchop fans. At times, it’s brisk, bright and energetic; at others, it lurches along unexpectedly, interspersed with meditative passages and taut scribbles of guitar from Mikael.
“I look at the music as chamber jazz, with some progressive melodies” he says. “Much jazz from the golden era is the circle form—the same 32 bars repeated, with different soloists giving their opinions on the form, like poets writing about the same subject. This is more linear—the parts serve a certain purpose, and don’t repeat.”
The trio behind the record is something of a dream team, featuring Mikael on guitar, Skúli Sverrisson on bass and Magnús Trygvason Eliassen on drums. “I felt when I was working with them that the composition that’s on the paper is only 40% of what the song ends up being,” says Mikael. “The other 60% comes from the interaction with the players, and the arrangements we found together. The grooves of the song weren’t written on the page—we had to jam out small sections for half an hour, to get the right atmosphere.”
Mikael is full of respect and praise for his collaborators. “They both have this improviser stamp on them, which is great,” he says. “But their attention to detail on the arrangements was really deep. I’ve never experienced that before.”
The album will be released on Smekkleysa, the long-lived Icelandic label that was the launchpad for The Sugarcubes, and has since released many of the finest artists on the Icelandic music scene. “It’s a legendary label, and all of us band members think so,” says Mikael. “A lot of my favourite artists are on Smekkleysa. For a nine-month period of my life, I think I listened only to Sigur Rós, every day.”
“Ási Jónsson, the label’s manager, has been helping me a lot in this process,” he continues. “As a musician, I mainly hang around with people who love making music more than listening. Ási’s love of listening to music is one of the most inspiring things I have encountered in my life.”
Mikael will return to Reykjavík for a release concert on June 9th before moving back at the end of the summer. While he is enjoying his time away—spent largely in seclusion, to compose and focus on his solo work—he seems excited about the prospect of coming home. “People really go for a personal way of making music in Iceland,” he finishes. “There’s less traditional jazz and bebop—it’s more of a melting pot, like the band ADHD. You can hear influences from all kinds of genres. There’s an inspiring diversity.”
‘Bobby’ will be released on Smekkleysa on May 31st. Mikael Máni Trio will play a release show at Harpa on June 9th.
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