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More correctly, the album is by Björk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar. Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar being a bebop jazz band consisting of the conventional piano, bass and drums trio, a structure familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance to jazz. As you'll immediately notice then, this is not necessarily traditional Bjork, even by her usually disparate output.
A little history - it would appear the Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar were tasked to create an album of for the most part Icelandic bebop standards and took on the challenge, only they realised to really be able to fulfil their commitments they needed a singer. Hmmm. Iceland. Singer. Bjork. Moreover, Bjork had played with the trio several years before in a Reykjavik hotel and so it made sense them to make use of her most remarkable vocal talents. And on Gling-Gló Bjork really proves her versatility vocally. If you're wondering though why was Bjork performing in a Reykjavik hotel, the album harks back to 1990, before she attained stardom, though she had been performing in Iceland for years. Though Gling-Gló certainly assured her stardom in Iceland as the album went platinum!
Gling-Gló translates, approximately, to ding-dong. Make of that what you will. Nevertheless, it suggests the tone of the music, and the title being in Icelandic presages the fact that the lyrics, bar two tracks, are sung entirely in Icelandic. Nevertheless, the language fits in perfectly with the bebop-jazz-vocal style. It never feels odd, old fashioned or either musicians or vocalist are being shaped to fit a form not suited to them. Some languages lend themselves better towards certain types of singing - and Icelandic fits in perfectly with this music traditional, though perhaps this is due to Bjork's vocal skills. What is fascinating about Gling-Gló is how Bjork's vocals are entirely recognisable, that husky edge remains though there is less screaming that you would expect from her. Gling-Gló is often a very playful album and this is reflected in her manner of singing. The catchily titled Eg Veit Ei Hvad Skal Segja, for instance, is gloriously playful; lead by nicely Bill Evansesque piano, the snare-drumming is relaxed and lets Bjork and Pianist Guðmundar Ingólfssonar really shine. It sums up one side of the album, being the form of jazz that leaves you moving your body, not extravagantly but nevertheless wonderfully energetic and fun (and occasionally reminiscent of the less dark moments in Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera).
The music is instantly recognisable in form if not necessarily the exact songs. A little like listening to Bill Evans, there is a sense of laidback skill on show. Each song is between two and four minutes long. It's not lounge music but that they played in a hotel does make sense. It's music for an intimate atmosphere and not a larger auditorium. Think basement club, low lights and sophisticated drinks. Listening, you can hear yourself practically sitting on top of Bjork and the trio; so close you can see them sweat away.
There are some absolute gems on Gling-Gló, including I Dansi Med Per, being a cover, in Icelandic of Sway. Here Bjork's huskiness really adds strength to the track. Equally, there is a toe tapping bassline that underpins the fun you can here the piano having. And this is an important point. Listening to Gling-Gló you can sense the fun that everyone is having; there is no sense of forced working, Bjork and the trio are clearly all having the time of their lives recording the music. Equally no one really takes over, detracting from the other performers; everyone is given space - though never with tedious solos.
The title track moves between swing, which is oft apparent on the album, and another intriguing facet of the album, with songs like Bornin Vid Tjornina, which opens most unusually (for the album that is) with accordion and then slides into what plays, and Bjork sings, like a child's nursery rhyme put to music. Curiously, it's rather affecting and effective; the cadence is measured as if to fit to each specific word and or syllable. Moments like these make clear the sense of humour that underpins the energy of the music. Bjork and the trio are not taking themselves too seriously but allowing themselves to play with their audience; as Bjork so often does she manipulates her audience by changing and contrasting tones, only here her backing is Jazz and not pop or dance or electronica.
When you first hear Ruby Baby, one of only two tracks in English (the final two) it makes you realise just how natural the music is in Icelandic; there's no sense of having moved from one language to another. Equally, there is a sense of understanding what the songs are about even when you don't understand the words. Each song has its own character and rhythm and feeling about it.
Though ostensibly jazz, I'm not sure it's right to pigeon hole Gling-Gló as being a part of that or any other genre. It is a strangely refreshing album and less easy to categorise; with songs sounding like child's rhymes, with Bella Simmamaer sounding similar in tone to The Ballard of Mackie the Knife. Yes, there is the occasional sense of music hall behind the music. It's sort of sophisticated and yet entirely down to Earth.
Basically, Gling-Gló is just extravagantly good fun to listen to. It's not party music exactly but it's hard to keep parts of your body still as you fall under its spell. And I think that's it really: Gling-Gló is familiar and recognisable and yet somehow new. Despite being music I might not necessarily normally listen to I find myself immediately enthralled.
It makes you wonder what else Bjork is capable of. Though her vocals power the music this is not like her vocal-work album Medulla. Rather you feel that because she is allowing herself to relax she is all the more effective. If Bjork was here singing as the Bjork we know (and perhaps love) then the music wouldn't feel right. She's not shaping herself to fit though; she simply morphs into the music perfectly.
In short, it's a joy. Go forth and listen!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Gling Gló
3 Kata Rokkar
4 Pabbi Minn
5 Brestir Og Brak
7 Bella Símamær
8 Litli Tónlistarmaðurinn
9 ÞAd Sést Ekki Sætari Mey
12 Eg Veit Ei Hvað Skal Segja
13 Í Dansi Með ÞÉr
14 Börnin Við Tjörnina
15 Ruby Baby
16 I Can't Help Loving That Man