While 26 years old at the time of this recording, Jóel Pálsson proves himself an impressive talent in possession of a fully developed sound and conception on the saxophone; strong, versatile writing skills; and a leader's knack for surrounding himself with musical partners that complement his playing and writing. Recorded in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1998, Prím features Iceland's top contemporary jazz players, exploring nine of the leader's originals and one number based on an Icelandic folk song. Among the fine collaborators heard with Pálsson, guitarist Hilmar Jensson is a standout. His Ed Bickert-meets-John Abercrombie style ranges effectively from dry, single-note lines to nuanced feedback, volume swells, and bowed tones. Pálsson's most appealing work is in a relatively straight-ahead, quietly adventurous, contemporary post-bop vein, such as the kinetic, pulsing "Snug," where the interplay between Pálsson and pianist Eythor Gunnarsson recalls dialogues Dewey Redman held with Keith Jarrett in Jarrett's bands of the 1970s. Pálsson also writes engaging, atmospheric works in a sort of ECM style that avoids the tendency of some of that label's releases to go soft in the middle. One such track, "Second Thoughts," features the bass clarinet of Sigurdur Flosason, whose gentle, swooping sound borrows effectively from Bennie Maupin's work with Herbie Hancock. Less interesting are the two tracks that double up on drummers, with Matthias Hemstock taking up residence in the right speaker and regular drummer Einar Scheving the left. While a similar setup has worked well for the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, for Pálsson's music the twin traps' wall of wallop is used at the expense of subtlety and suppleness. Of course, a 26-year-old has every right to occasional moments of funky exuberance, but the fact is that Pálsson's gifts are better served without an overbearing backbeat.
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AllMusic Review by Jim Todd