Solveig Slettahjell is a gem among singers. Her first albums with the Slow Motion Orchestra/Duo earned her international praise as one of the great jazz-standard interpreters of our time, and from the album Pixiedust (2005) she has stood forth as one of the foremost conveyors of original material in the same genre. Her latest outing is ‘Antologie’ created in partnership with keyboardist Morten Qvenild and represents a return to her favourite repertoire with its covers of some of pop and rock’s all time classics.
Says Slettahjell on ‘Antologie’ and its collection of favourite tracks ranging from Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses to Abba’s The Winner Takes It All and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy: - This album could have been my first. This is how I started; Coming home from school, sitting down at the piano, picking whatever song was my flavour of the day and in my childish way making it my own. Piano and vocals has always been my basic format and as I grew up, I most often played the piano myself. Then when I started studying at the Academy I met the piano-player Håkon Hartberg and started my most defining collaboration up until then. After many years of working in other constellations it is really exciting to go back to my original format and see what these years of life and music brings to it – to redo it in our way today.
While Slettahjell’s previous album, 2009’s ‘Tarpan Seasons’ featured original material, ‘Antologie’ is a collection of Solveig and Morten’s personal favourites, compiled through a long process that even involved friends and family:
- I have always seen myself as singer first and songwriter second. Not that song-writing doesn´t interest me or is not important to me, but because singing is what nourishes me. So then, now to finally have the possibility to record an album with my dear friend Morten Qvenild where we sing and play our way through this rather eclectic selection of songs has been a thrill. Somehow it feels like coming home. Morten and I have worked together for more than ten years now and his open-mindedness and dedication to the music is as strong now as it was when we first met. Our interplay and friendship has been a strong fundament for our finding our way through these borrowed gems of songs. We searched among our favourites and our friends have been suggesting their favourites to us – and we have chosen the ones that spoke to us the most and trigged our urge to make music.
Solveig Slettahjell & Morten Qvenild: Crazy
Musically, a project of ‘Antologie’s calibre entails shedding all notions of correctness and letting the songs –and the singing itself– manifest as a basic mode of being.
-I am always completely immersed in what I am doing. It is not just that music and singing is very important to me, it is a way of reflecting on existence. I really sing because I have to, singing works as a fundamental perspective on life. I don’t think I could keep on doing what I do if I felt detached from my music. Actually, I feel blessed with an inability to distance myself and just do a job. This means that there is always a form of oscillation going on, between changing personal phases, concerns, inspirations and moods. Lately the pendulum has swung towards this love of directness, and the notion of music’s unmediated, instant humanity.
-Even though jazz can be intellectual and modern, there is a great deal of untamed force in it; there has to be. I need to feel that things are on fire, and that is the point with simple expressions; even the most basic of artistic idioms can be on the verge breaking asunder due to its own innate force and intensity: When Jackson Pollock splashes a wall with paint, I don’t think he does that with a kind of distant and blasé mind frame, I think he is on fire. And that is the way I need to feel when I sing and make music. However, this intense emotional aspect naturally has to be balanced with a more cool-headed and professional assessment of the material.
So is it even conceivable for her to be doing something else, we wonder. Would Solveig Slettahjell be an altogether different person without music?
-I did consider becoming a gardener. At one point I got really tired of working with music and wanted out, but then I realised that it was being an instrument for others that was tiring, not the musical vocation as such. So I had to discontinue some of the projects I was working with and just focus on my own things. Singing in itself is never tiring; on the contrary it is always empowering.
Solveig relates that inspiration comes to her in the most unpredictable and mundane ways, not as clear ideas or concepts, but more like simple epiphanies without particular content.
-Again, I feel that it is a question of being visited, and all I can do is work hard within a set framework and wait and see. I am very conscious that don’t pretend to invoke inspiration. The actual musical work is extremely concrete, but the thing is that when you stick to a framework and stay patient, things will happen, maybe even magic.
Jazz is normally associated with improvisation and “the moment”. Solveig readily acknowledges this aspect, at the same time she says that there is a dimension of conscience at play, which depends on thinking and planning.
-I want my music to reach out and communicate, which requires a certain amount of thinking. You have to be clever to combine the preconceived with the flow of things. That is what singing is about for me; it is a vital thing that takes place as a sort of oscillation between the concrete and controlled and the unpredictable and the transcendent.
Already established internationally as one of the finest female jazz voices of our time, Solveig Slettahjell is ready to let the rest of the world in on the magnificent song writing that Norway has fallen in love with.
Line-up: Solveig Slettahjell (voc), Morten Qvenild (p)
Sa 21 April