Despite the years, Mezzoforte’s brand of fusion jazz remains a sheer delight on stage.
IF you grew up in the 1980s, then you would have heard the catchy Garden Party on the airwaves on RTM Radio 4. Even if you didn’t know which band played it, the song was impressionable enough that it warranted months of airtime.
Icelandic jazz fusion band Mezzoforte has come a long way since that hit song from its 1983 sophomore album, Surprise, which brought it worldwide attention. Overnight, the Mezzoforte members, who were barely out of their teens then, became a sensation.
Fast forward 30 years and these talented musicians have become middle-aged men, with 14 studio albums to date. So generous are the Mezzoforte members that whenever time permits, they provide free Skype tutorials for interested musicians!
In 2006, its three founding members; keyboardist Eythor Gunnarsson, bassist Johann Asmundsson and drummer Gulli Briem, expanded the band with the inclusion of German guitarist Bruno Müller and German trumpeter Sebastian Studnitzky before Swedish saxophonist Jonas Wall joined them this year. This mixture of original members and fresh blood from the European jazz scene has helped enhance Mezzoforte’s music.
On Nov 25, the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) in Kuala Lumpur was transformed into a jazz hall when Mezzoforte gave us a sampling of its flavourful music during its concert stop here.
Clearly, the band members were having a ball from the word go. They started the night with the pop-driven Berlin Boogie, followed by Hard Wired and High Live. The music was warm, crisp, delightful and sometimes elegant. Not to mention funky in parts!
There were familiar tunes such as Nothing Lasts Forever and Later On plus deep catalogue gems such as Daybreak, EG Blues and Joyride. The group played the songs with apparent ease, flowing with its mastery on the instruments.
It has become a rare sight to have an international jazz group at the DFP, and Mezzoforte reminded many of us that the hall there should be hosting more jazz-inspired names. This coming from the well-received Ottmar Liebert concert on the same stage recently. We’ll take the bands or the solo acts – just don’t forget to keep it jazz.
Back to the show, Mezzoforte took us on a space odyssey on In Beyond The Horizon, as the mood shifted from happiness to the unknown. The song had no jazzy edge to it and was almost New Age, but yet, fitted well for the night. It was a welcome change as the band did a wonderful job with its song selection. The audience got to sample a bit of everything. You never knew what was coming next because these seasoned jazzheads had no hard and fast rule about what to play.
Each musician had ample opportunity to display their mettle on their respective instruments and oh, they were incredible. Studnitzky played the trumpet with his right hand while playing the keyboard on his left was a sight to behold. Most would remember this German musician from his Penang Island Jazz Festival appearance in 2009 when he led his own trio.
Elsewhere, Briem was even more fascinating to watch as he alternated between playing the drums and the bass simultaneously. The men were on artistic fire as bassist Asmundsson kept the whole thing together with his groovy lines.
Incidentally, Briem was the drummer who played on the soundtrack of the film Evita, where Madonna played the leading role.
When Wall introduced the melodies from Garden Party, the crowd couldn’t contain their excitement and cheered him on. He coolly continued his saxophone solo, building up a climax, before the other musicians joined in. What a party it was!
For the encore, the band played a medley of tunes from its old albums, calling it a Blast From The Past. The crowd wanted more but after more than 90 minutes of non-stop music, the band called it a night. Mezzoforte proved that it hasn’t lost any of its jazz playfulness despite the years.