Mezzoforte




 

 

 

1977-1981

Mezzoforte was founded in 1977 by four 15-17 year old guys, Ey■ˇr Gunnarsson, Fri­rik Karlsson, Jˇhann ┴smundsson and Gunnlaugur Briem.

Ey■ˇr and Fri­rik had been playing in a dance band together (they actually first met at a summer festival arranged by the Icelandic boy scouts in 1976) and Gulli and Jˇhann had been playing together for a short while. What brought them all together was a shared interest in jazz and fusion music.

In the beginning they practiced playing songs by artists like Weather Report, Al di Meola, Chick Corea, Earth, Wind and Fire, George Duke, Jean Luc Ponti (they had a violinist in the band for some months) and other fusion bands. Pretty soon however they started writing some songs of their own, with Fri­rik and Ey■ˇr being the most active songwriters.

From early on it was obvious that both personally and musically they all fitted well together. They rehearsed for several hours a day, seven days a week and spent the rest of the time together going to the movies or listening to music. Having played in ReykjavÝk (mainly in high schools) for just over a year they were offered a recording contract with Steinar Records(later SPOR Records). Mezzoforte had actively started to write their own material and soon developed a unique sound, blending melodic harmonies with tight, funky, rhythm and unpredictable tempo changes. The band recorded their first album in Hljˇ­riti the only 24 track studio in Iceland at that time.

The first album simply called Mezzoforte was released in 1979 and is the first Icelandic fusion album.

In the following years the band made two additional albums and toured around Iceland. They also played in various dance and jazz bands, some of them were already full time musicians by the age of eighteen. The band was a five-piece band during the first years. Stefan S. Stefansson played saxophone on the first album, but left soon after the release of the album. Bj÷rn Thorarensen (keyboards) joined the band in 1979 and played on the second and third album. The band became well respected for their music and the members were in increased demand as session players, and backing band to vocalists. Some interest was also building up outside Iceland.

The second album ═ hakanum, was made in the same studio in Iceland. When it came to making the third album the band and Steinar Berg ═sleifsson their record publisher wanted to make an album that would stand the test of a more international audience. They travelled to London, in the fall 1981 to make the album, under the direction of Simon Heyworth. Bj÷rn decided to leave Mezzoforte in 1982 to concentrate on his studies in computer sciences. Following his departure Kristinn Svavarsson (saxophones) who had been playing with the band for a while, formally joined the band.

The album ŮvÝlÝkt og anna­ eins was released in Iceland around Christmas time in 1981. Plans for release in the UK did not come through however and since the band was very actice in their songwriting at this time they ended up recording another album in London in 1982, without ŮvÝlÝkt og anna­ eins ever being released in its entity outside of Iceland. (The album will be released as a part of re-releasing all Mezzoforte albums in 1997)

1982-1984

In early 1982 the song Dreamland (Fer­in til draumalandsins) was released with Shooting Star from the second album as a double A-side single and did well on the club scene in the UK.

Having recorded their fourth album Surprise Surprise in London in 1982 the band found themselves standing at crossroads. The small Icelandic market was not enough to support a full time fusion band and the future did not look too positive. They played some concerts in Iceland, but the novelty of an instrumental band was wearing off and interest in funk and fusion music was diminshing with punk rock taking over the music scene. The band held a concert in one of Reykjaviks high scools in february 1983, to an audience of six people. This made them think seriously of breaking up the band.

It was therefore a big surprise when the song Garden Party from the Surprise Surprise album started to climb the British dance and pop charts and eventually found its way to number 17 on the british pop chart in the spring of 1983. Following this the band came internationally known. Garden Party made it into the pop charts in most European countries and suddenly the band was in big demand. The members moved with their families to England and spent the next years touring extensively around Europe and also toured Japan and other countries.

Having enjoyed the success of Garden Party and the Surprise Surprise album for only a few months, Mezzoforte started working on the followup album, their fifth studio album, Observations. Recording sessions were squeesed in between concerts and tours around the world, but despite a very busy schedule the recordings were finished in just two months. Nine songs were recorded for the album, but earlier in the year the band had recorded Rockall which was released as a single in June 1983. The album was first released in Iceland in December 1983 as Yfirsřn with Icelandic songtitles.

After the release of Observations, Mezzoforte toured Europe and Japan, playing more than 150 concerts in one year, including most major festivals, such as the North Sea festival in Holland and the Montreux Festival in Switzerland where the band headlined a concert with Passport, Steps Ahead and Spyro Gyra. Observations is the last Mezzoforte album to feature Kristinn Svavarsson on saxophones. While the rest of the band decided to stay in the UK, Kristinn went back to Iceland in the summer of 1984, having spent one year on the road while his family was living in London.

So now Mezzoforte was a four piece band. They had recorded five albums, made the charts in most European countries and played at more concerts and TV shows than anyone can remember. With their families back home in Iceland, the band was still living in England between tours.

During the late summer and fall 1984, the band recorded Rising in three different studios. This is the only album Mezzoforte made as a quartet, relying on just two other musicians to complete the musical picture on a couple of songs. The band was also taking more responsibility for producing the songs with Geoff Calver behind the mixing console.

For concerts the four Icelanders added musicians of several other nationalities performing as six or even seven-piece band during late 1984 and 1985. During that period they took a step into another musical direction adding lead vocals to the lineup.

1985-1989

No limits is the seventh studio album made by Mezzoforte. On this album made in 1985, two long time touring partners took part in the recordings. The dutch percussionist Jeroen De Rijk and the british saxophonist David O'Higgins played on a couple of songs. On this album Mezzoforte changes their musical course, recording three tracks with lead singer Noel McCalla. This album was produced by Nigel Wright who also wrote lyrics to a couple of songs. By this time the band had moved back to Iceland, but was as busy as ever touring around Europe with David O'Higgins and Noel McCalla. Mezzoforte started working on building their own recording studio in Iceland and this was the last time they went to England to make an album. A recording deal with BMG Ariola had secured the release of Mezzoforte albums in the USA and early 1987 the band started to make an album aimed at this new market. Enjoying the luxury of having their own studio available at all times the band spent endless time in the studio. A lot of time went into programming synthesizers and sequencers and in fact the band did not play much together or rehearse the songs before going into the studio. The only song on the album that the band recorded as a group is In a Word and that took only few hours to complete.

For additional producers they looked in two opposite directions. Two of the songs are produced and partially arranged by two Norwegians, Svein Dag Hauge and Rolf Graf. They were members of the group Lava a well known group in Norway, frequently backing Randy Crawford on her tours outside the US. Eythor Gunnarsson worked with Lava/Randy Crawford for some time and the saxophonist of Lava, Kňre Kolve later joined Mezzoforte.

The other producer Eric Phersing came from the United States. He had worked with several jazz/fusion artists in Los Angeles. Most of the recordings were done in Iceland but when it came to putting the finishing touches to the album the band went to Los Angeles where Ernie Watts and Steve Tavaglione added some saxophone lines to the songs. The Seawind horns played on three songs and Efrain Toro added some percussion.

In order to make the album sound more like US albums, the band got Erik Zobler to mix the album in Los Angeles. Zobler who is half Icelandic was at that time best known for his long time work with George Duke and his work on Michael Jacksons album BAD.

After two years of more or less continous work the album was finally released in 1989. It did not do as well as expected in the US market and the reaction in other parts of the world were disappointing for the band as well. So having played at concerts in Europe in 1989/90 and done some re-recordings for a compilation album (Fortissimos released in 1991) the band took a break to work on other projects and did not return to the recording studio as Mezzoforte until late 1993.

1990-1997

During this period Fridrik Karlsson made a solo album (Point Blank released 1990) featuring Mezzofortes members on some of the songs, they also worked with Eythor Gunnarssons wife Ellen Kristjßnsdˇttir and saxophonist Sigur­ur Flosason. Both these acts toured around Scandinavia in 1990-92 under various names. Fri­rik and Jˇhann joined the pop/dance band Stjˇrnin, and participated in the Eurovision Grand Prix Song Contest as Heart 2 Heart. Ey■ˇr and Gulli started working with Bubbi Morthens, an Icelandic rock star, with Ey■ˇr producing a couple of his albums.

The band had begun writing for a new album in early 1993 when they received an invitation to go to SE Asia to play at two jazz festivals in Indonesia and Malaysia in September 1993. By this time Kňre Kolve had become a member of the band. Coming straight off the tour, the band went to Puk Studios in Denmark to record a new album, before returning home to Iceland. This time the band produced the album by themselves and changed their working methods by recording most of the music "live" and using very few additional musicians. The album called Daybreak was released internationally in 1994. During 1994 the band toured in Norway and SE Asia adding Singapore to the list of countries. But most of the time was spent on other projects.

In January 1995 Mezzoforte started working on a new album and during that year spent much time writing and recording new material with a new saxophone player Ëskar Gu­jˇnsson The recordings were finished in December 1995 and the album called Monkey Fields was released in Central Europe in September 1996, in Scandinavia in December 1996/January 1997.

In 1996 Mezzoforte visited four countries for the first time, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in April and Bulgaria in December. The band played at the JakJazz festival in Indonesia for the third time and played some concerts in Iceland, one of which was recorded for Radio and Television. In early 1996 Frissi Karlsson moved to London to work as a session musician. He was soon offered to play on the soundtrack for the movie Evita. Later Gulli Briem joined Frissi in the studio and together they performed with Madonna on BBC┤s Top of the Pops.

In 1997 the band will be touring in Europe, starting to work on a new album, working on a documentary TV program and several other projects.

Gallery

Artists

A B C D E F G H I

J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z