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Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartett

Thursday 10. March 2022 - 20:30

Sunna Gunnlaugs – piano
Ohad Talmor – sax
Matt Pavolka – bass
Scott McLemore – drums

Originally from Iceland, now living in New York City, Sunna has found a way to make music that people on both sides of the Atlantic can relate to. Highly influenced by such American pianists as Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, and Scandinavians like Bobo Stenson, her music has developed its own charming brand of romantic lyricism, riding atop a driving American rhythm section.

She came to America in 1993 to study jazz at William Paterson College, where she was taught by, among others, pianist Pete Malinverni, and bassist Rufus Reid. While in school she formed a trio with bassist Dan Fabricatore and drummer Scott McLemore, which she recorded upon graduating and self-released on a CD entitled Far Far Away. The trio toured Iceland in 1997 (which was the first major tour of Iceland by a female musician) and continues to perform in America.

In December 1999 she recorded the CD Mindful with a quartet that featured bassist Drew Gress, saxophonist Tony Malaby and again drummer Scott McLemore. This quartet toured Iceland in March 2000 and the states in April 2000 as well as local NYC performances at the Knitting Factory and Cornelia Street Cafe. In August 2001 she toured the states again with a quartet featuring saxophonist Peter Hess, bassist Matt Pavolka and McLemore which included a stop at Blues Alley in DC.

Sunna’s radio career began in 1998 with her show on RAS 1 [Icelandic Public Radio] called Jazz Gallery New York. Her concept was to expose Icelanders to jazz by giving them a behind the scenes look into the music and the people who make it. She interviews one artist per one hour show and plays their music. So far she has hosted 17 shows which featured: Dave Douglas, Ben Monder, Mark Turner, Marc Johnson, Ethan Iverson, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Maria Schneider, Larry Goldings, Guillermo Klein, Matt Wilson, Chris Cheek, Jim Hall, Ellery Eskelin, Jason Moran, Drew Gress, Frank Kimborough, and Chris Potter.

Sunna has also been pursuing a project with Icelandic singer Kristjana Stefánsdóttir for which she has been writing music to Icelandic poetry. The debut of this collaboration took place in Reykjavik in December 2000, with Dutch bassist Joris Teepe and drummer Scott McLemore. She hopes to record the project this year.

Her various credits and awards include:

– an endowment from the American Culture Center
– a concert at the American Embassy in Iceland
– a cultural award from the American Scandinavian Society
– an artist salary from the Ministry of Education in Iceland
– and a concert at the prestigious Cosmos Club in Washington DC presented by the Icelandic Embassy.


“Sunna’s honest and subtly complex music make her one of the most exciting new additions to the current “Icelandic new wave.” With a band that includes some of the best players on New York’s downtown jazz scene, Mindful gives everyone a chance to dig into some challenging and enjoyable material. Sunna is a great young musician worth checking out.” – Dave Douglas

I’m not sure where this self-produced CD came from, but it lives up to the opening title of the eight originals by this talented female pianist: Good Stuff. She plays with great polish and flow, plus originality and a generally upbeat musical mood. Saxist Malaby has a nice melodic gift too. Good stuff for in-car listening or walking. – John Henry, Audiophile Audition Dec. 2001

“Fine musicians seem to be among Iceland’s most visible exports these days, and pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs is proof that jazz is as much a part of the picture as the pop of Björk or Sigur Ros. Tonight she leads a quartet that shows how much she’s learned from Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.” –
TimeOut New York 10/31/01

Sunna Gunnlaugs is originally from Iceland and has been living in USA for some years now. “Mindful” is a beautiful piece of work. Many press releases have likened her playing to that of Bill Evans…but we firmly believe that Sunna is an original.” – David Fishel, The Jazz Scene [Norway]

“Her articulate touch alone should endear her to fans of Evans and Jarrett, as should the intimate and seemingly intuitive rapport sustained by her quartet throughout ‘Mindful.’ …elegantly bridges soul-searching passages with uncluttered swing.” – Mike Joyce, The Washington Post 8/9/01
To read the whole review click here.

“Gunnlaugs may be the best jazz pianist you’ve never heard” – Virginian Pilot 8/14/01

“This pianist, from Iceland, is beginning to make some noise on the downtown scene”
– Time Out New York 1/9/01

“impressive newcomer…” – Jim Macnie, The Village Voice 5/4/01

Selected among the 10 best CDs of 2000 “Remember ‘This Is Spinal Tap,’ when label rep Artie Fufkin says, ‘See this (euphemism for rear end)? Kick it. I’m not asking, I’m telling.’ You might feel likewise after realizing you could’ve seen Gunnlaugs, a jazz pianist from Iceland, at the last Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival. Her fluid, lyrical compositions take their lead from the masters, leaving ample room for Tony Malaby (sax), Drew Gress (bass) and husband Scott McLemore (drums).”
Craig Shapiro – Virginian Pilot 12/21/00