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Blog: The Unforgiving Minute (UK) - original article

Susanna and the Magical Orchestra / Sidsel Endresen / In The Country: Skopje Jazz Festival, Round One: Norwegians!
Skopje National Opera and Theatre
, Macedonia
October 18, 2007


Norwegians galore on the first night! Melody Mountain, the most recent album from Susannah and the Magical Orchestra (the latter comprised entirely of keyboardist Morten Quinveld) consisted of cover versions of unexpected songs that benefitted from Susannah’s wonderfully languid voice and Morten’s batty electronic instrumentation. The result is like Angel Delight - it’s really tasty, but too much of it and you feel a bit ill. It was fun to play spot the original, but the tempo remained the same for most of the set, which meant that it was difficult to get very excited by the music. Perhaps I ask for too much - you can hear for yourself on the video for their cover of “Love will tear us apart”.

Sidsel Endresen is one of the most fantastic vocalists in the world, with a breathy, versatile voice that she bends into every conceivable shape. She’s not a straight vocalist at all - by which I mean that she can be very difficult, especially when it’s just her on stage. This proved to be the case tonight, where she spent a good 40 minutes performing with a delivery that was a cross between a series of breathing exercises and an episode of Tourette’s. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see her, but I’d prefer to see her bouncing ideas off other musicians.

Finally, Morten Quinveld returned with his trio project In The Country - more accessible than Sidsel, more musically interesting than the Magical Orchestra. It’s hard to describe what they do, because it isn’t really jazz. Although they follow the classic piano/bass/drums lineup, they’re strongly influenced by the European improvisational tradition (which makes sense, as they record for Rune Grammafon) but also build in some very hummable chorus work. And they’re dark, did I mention that? Imagine a soundtrack for a Norwegian movie about the tribulations of farmers (farmers who are also jazz fans) in the immediate post-WWII period, that’s the sort of thing.

At one point, they even tried to get the audience to sing along. It was unsuccessful - somebody should have told them that Macedonians don’t roll like that- but it was also a problem with the National Opera and Theatre, which was where the concert was held. It wasn’t the sort of venue that any of these acts could benefit from - the stage was too big, the audience too far away and the auditorium too formal.

After I saw In The Country earlier this year at Cargo (supporting Supersilent), I found that listening to their album Losing Stones Collecting Bones was much the same as seeing them play live. For me, this is a bad sign for a jazz group, for whom live performance should be the opportunity to really stretch out. Despite that reservation, I really enjoy their performances - they obviously like playing together, they like the audience and they have a sense of humour which comes through quite strongly. This makes up for any reservations I have about whether I’m hearing anything really exciting happening.

So to summarise: I lose Jazz Club points for not appreciating Sidsel. Susannah and the Magical Orchestra are fine, but better in a nightclub than a concert hall. In The Country get the gold star this evening, particularly for the explanation behind the song “Torch Fishing”.

Published : 23.10.2007