Skúli Sverrisson and Davíð Þór Jónsson @ Scandinavia House, 7/7/11
While New Yorkers were working, eating dinner, or running somewhere on the evening of Thursday, July 7th, Icelandic artists Skúli Sverrisson and Davíð Þór Jónsson were administering to a small audience at Scandinavia House the musical antidote needed to recover from what living in the city does to many on a weekly basis. The performance in that quiet theater was part of the ongoing Out of Scandinavia concert series, held on the first Thursday of every month.
Skúli Sverrisson is a bass guitarist-composer from Iceland but based in New York. Over the past two decades, he has appeared on over 100 recordings and has toured the world with a respectable range of artists. Within the experimental music scene, he’s collaborated with enough artists to make this review very long – among them, free jazz legends like Wadada Leo Smith, music icons like Lou Reed, and composers like Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sverrisson is also known for his work as an artistic director for Ólöf Arnalds, recordings with Blonde Redhead, and his work as a musical director for legendary performance artist Laurie Anderson.
Nominated for “Performer of the Year 2009” by the Iceland Music Awards, Davíð Þór Jónsson is a pianist who has collaborated with a spectrum of artists, from obscure troubadours in the countryside to stadium bands. He’s developed music for art installations, theater, and film while keeping his childlike enthusiasm and free spirit intact. Together with Sverrisson, he founded Seria, an ongoing ensemble featuring Amedeo Pace (Blonde Redhead), Ólöf Arnalds, Anthony Burr, Eyvind Kang, and Hildur Guðnadóttir, which was awarded “Icelandic Album of the Year” in 2006.
That evening, the performance featured music off the recent release Seria II (2011). There in that theater, their combination of bass guitar and piano sounded almost hypnotic at times, with both musicians so quiet and focused on the soundtrack they were creating that it was almost a kind of meditation for everyone. At times, the bass guitar provided a type of pulsating rhythm for the piano. At times, Davíð’s fingers would scurry up the piano and down it again with the utmost of fluidity.
Their performance that evening definitely made me feel like I was not in New York, but somewhere else, in something like an awakened dreamlike state. It was mesmerizing to watch the two of them and the way they’d communicate with each other so subtly onstage, and it was enjoyable to see them finish a piece quietly and then turn to face the audience with wide grins. It wasn’t a surprise when Davíð later said, “It’s really a passion for us.”
Skúli and Davíð finished off their set with two acoustic songs. With each song melting into the next, the applause heard at the end of the performance was the only sound that broke the peaceful silence they’d created.