Solveig Slettahjell Slow Motion Quintet Pixiedust (Curling Legs, 2005)
An album of straightforward jazz songs sung by a sweet voice, but with a difference, and that difference is imagination. Usually when a jazz act uses electronics it’s in a slightly clichéd, slightly out-of-touch way (e.g. Anja Garbarek). I once reviewed a concert by this act and noted that in their arrangements they “mix electronic clicks and squeaks with their more conventional instruments (piano, trumpet, double bass and drums) but in an incredibly subtle way.” I went on to write that “There is so much subtlety in the playing of all instruments – drummer Per Oddvar Johansen bowing the sides of cymbals spring to mind – that this show is a real quiet treat.” This album has all those sounds and more. Jazz standards (like Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain”) sit well with six really quite remarkable songs by Peder Kjellsby (but who is he?), and Solveig pens a couple herself. First of all she sets Emily Dickinson’s uncanny poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” to music. And if that wasn’t thought-provoking enough, her wholly original song “Faith, Trust and Pixiedust” is really something worth ruminating over. The lyrics take the form of a list of things the singer (or the character she is singing as) would like to have. “A house by the sea” and “an early summer morning swim… a trip to Paris, and I want to learn Spanish.” In the second verse this gets even more characteristically Norwegian. She conflates bathing with swimming, singing “I want to walk from the bath up my very own pathway” – and here’s the dead giveaway – “up to my cabin”. Ever wonder why Oslo seems so deserted at Easter time? Because half or more of the population are in their “cabins” in the mountains, that’s why. And there’s more: “say, two cute kids” (the Norwegian birth rate is 1.8) and “a very charming boxer” (this place is overrun with dog-lovers). Yes, in this song, Solveig has (perhaps unintentionally) encapsulated the dreams of the Norwegian middle class, sealed them up in her song, and in the distant future you’ll only have to listen to it to know what these people were like.
Hanny Moderning (Metronomicon Audio, 2005)
This is a folky-indie kind of record that keeps you guessing all the way through. At first the set-up seems to be the voice of singer Marie Kvamme and her acoustic guitar, with strings, but from the off, unexpected things happen, like when distorted guitar interrupts the very first song. There’s a Macedonian folk song here played to an accordion, a Tibetan folktune sung a capella by a different singer, some “bonus track” silence, and a weird disco remix at the end of the album. It’s very charming, never boring, and if they never release anything else, they’ll be mysterious future legends.
Other acts I’ve written about:
Now We’ve Got Members
Portrait of David
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra
The White Birch