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Christopher Porter´s web page - original article



This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat
(Rune Grammofon, 2005)

Keyboardist Morten Qvenild is one of Norway's most valuable utility players. To put it in baseball terms that only Baltimore Orioles fans from the mid-'90s can understand: Qvenild is like Jeff Reboulet with a better batting average and minus the porn mustache.

Qvenild is the "orchestra" in the incredible post-Bjork duo Susanna & the Magical Orchestra, writer and arranger for jazz singer Solveig Slettahjell, former member of pop-prog-jazz instrumentalists Jaga Jazzist and Shining, and part of chart-topping supergroup the National Bank. Qvenild gets to display his piano-jazz chops with In the Country, featuring bassist Roger Arntzen and drummer Pal Hausken. The trio's debut CD, This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat, is a stunner.

From the jazz world Qvenild cites Paul Bley and Norwegian free player Svein Finnerud as influences; from classical, Olivier Messiaen and Morton Feldman. Qvenild also has a great ear for pop melodies: His gorgeous solo cover of Ryan Adams' woozy ballad "In My Time of Need," played with almost no extrapolation on the theme, renders the song a pure lullaby. Qvenild's mixture of jazz phrasing, classical sensibilities, and love of songcraft leads In the Country through 11 songs that rarely rise above a whisper but carry the emotional power of a screaming stack of Marshall amps.

I caught up with Qvenild (who's pictured on the right in the sweater photo above) via e-mail, and this is what he had to say about making This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat:

This record is a really exciting little baby. It's the first time that I've written and collected all the material myself, and this makes it more personal. We went to Atlantis, a wonderful studio in Stockholm, Sweden, that's been running since the '60s. ABBA has done a lot of stuff there, especially piano recordings. We tried to do the music in an honest way, trimmed off all excess, and in the end it became this record.

How did you guys meet & form, and how did you end up doing this sort of slow, expansive, beautiful music---was it by chance or or was it a decision to play this way?

We met at the Academy of Music in Oslo, studying at the jazz department there. The period we went there, the school was packed with interesting people. In 2000 I joined Jaga Jazzist, and then we formed Shining and Susanna & the Magical Orchestra. That says a lot about that place! In the Country formed in 2002, but Roger and me had played together for a couple of years as a duo. This was kind of a rehearsal band, where we played a lot of Lennie Tristano's material and tried to get a hang of it. Then I started to write more music, and we fetched Pal and made the trio. At first we were only playing on each other's exams at the school (it's a bit difficult for unknown guys to get gigs), but then we won a prize called "Norwegian Young Jazz Musicians of the Year" at Molde Jazz Festival. After that we played some concerts, and then we made this record.

The reason why we play like we do is a result of some different things:

---Me writing the music that feels right for me. That's very often quite calm pieces, written with as much honesty and passion as possible. I try to develop by all the time trying to write my music as the musical person me, instead of trying to sound like someone else. This also is a concern in the trio. If we can't play a song, and feel like we own it, then we don't play it.

---It's a greater sense of control in slow-paced music. It's easier to have a "fingerspitzgefuhl," as the Germans put it. For me as a piano player, its important to work with my instrument to get the sound and the melodies to sound right, so that the music presented comes out as clear and undisturbed as possible.

---We try to trim the improvised parts if they don't sound natural according to the musical environment. There are a lot of improvised parts on the record, and improvisation plays an important role in playing the written music in a good way, but we have also put a lot of effort into orchestration and finding tight solutions that fit the compositions. So, the way we play is built upon a lot of trying, discussing taste, and thinking about what we want to do. So it is definitely a decision. Things will change and develop, but we try the whole time to be aware and to do our stuff with love.

Your gorgeous version of Ryan Adams' "In My Time of Need" really sticks to the melody and chords of the original song; you didn't do the usual jazzbo thing and reharmonize it almost to the point of it being unrecognizable. Why do you play it so straight?

"In My Time of Need" is one of my favorite songs, and therefore I think it's perfect as it is. I often feel that the core of a good song lies in the very simple structure of it, and I try to look for this simplicity and present it in my own way. The strength of this song lies in the wonderful melody, and I didn't want to disturb it. It comes very natural for me playing this tune. I wish it were mine!

When's the next Susanna & the Magical Orchestra CD due?

Right now we're rehearsing a lot with Susanna & the Magical Orchestra. We hope to be in studio sometime during the next six months. We've started to get some work out in Europe, and the last album is still working well for us out there. The record will come out when we're ready and the music is good enough; 2006/2007 is a qualified guessing.

Any plans to have the National Bank CD licensed in the rest of the world? It's difficult to buy outside of Norway.

Exporting Norwegian pop-music like the National Bank seems almost impossible, but we're sure going to try when the Jaga Jazzist boys comes home from their months of touring the new album. Don't know any concrete about labels yet.

Any plans to perform in the U.S. with any of your groups?

No plans of going to US at the moment, but hopefully....

Published : 08.03.2005