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BBC (UK) - original article

In The Country: Losing Stones, Collecting Bones


What is an innocent listener meant to make of a track with the whispered refrain 'Everyone is going to die' repeated to a frenzied climax? Could this be some kind of knowing self-parody of what one expects to hear from the latest Norwegian jazz sensations? Sadly, I’m afraid to say I can’t detect any hint of tongue in cheek from the band’s leader Morton Qvenild. Yet somehow "Everybody Lives Their Life" and its album is oddly compelling, like a teenager’s diary, a mix of the profound and commonplace, creative and cringeworthy.

A founder member of the jazz and electronica collective Jaga Jazzist and one half of Susanna and Her Magic Orchestra, Qvenild is one of the latest talents to come from the tiny yet fertile Oslo music scene. Having played with everyone from the lauded jazz singer Solveig Slettahjell to the chart-topping (well in Norway at least) pop band National Service, the twenty-eight year old has turned his attentions to the piano trio with In The Country.

In this, their second album on the impeccable Rune Grammafon label, their debut’s eye-catching reinventions of the likes of Ryan Adams and Handel have been supplanted by a set of eleven Qvenild originals. Being a Scandinavian piano trio, comparisons with the more established Esbjorn Svensson Trio are perhaps inevitable and their soundworlds do turn out to be rather similar. Sharing a penchant for clean, triad-based harmonies, both bands have a masterly ability to vary texture and timbre in what is in the hands of many a rather clinical instrumentation. In The Country differs though in their preference for a much narrower range of tempos and more colouristic playing from drummer Pål Hausken, showing less interest in the groove-based rhythms of E.S.T.

Qvenild is obviously a fan of the slow burn, with the majority of the tracks here tending to start small and building to majestic climaxes. In this they are helped magnificently by the guest presence of the downtown New York guitarist and Tom Waits sideman Marc Ribot who wigs out to great effect on "Torch Singing" and "Can I Come Home Now". In fact it is Marc Ribot and the other guest Swedish veteran vocalist Stefan Sundstrom who really add a new level to the music, achieving the emotional highpoints of the album.

The downside to the slow burn of course is that the listener may find their interest extinguished before the music has ignited. This proves the case with a rather austere and unwelcoming first third of the album. Stick with it though for the likes of "Kung Fu Boys" and "Take Me Over" and your attention is rewarded.

Perhaps not for those who find most Scandinavian music rather frosty, but, if you can forgive the odd callow lyric, there’s much here to be enjoyed.

Published : 29.01.2007