Tarpan Seasons - Solveig Slettahjell


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Her Norwegian Grammy nominated 6th album, Solveig's voice, mellow, sometimes breathy, sometimes almost crystalline in its clarity, rests within the folds of a warm, full-bodied music.

On this, her Norwegian Grammy nominated sixth album, Solveig's voice, mellow, sometimes breathy, sometimes almost crystalline in its clarity, rests within the folds of a warm, full-bodied music.It could almost feel like a cool stream flowing through a lush valley. Blues and gospel influences throw both light and shade on her beautifully measured performances on this collection of songs. From opening to close, it is not difficult to hear why Solveig is one of Norway's most lauded vocalists.

The music itself is an organic, breathing force, multi-textured, and often positioning elements that should feel misplaced in such a way as to feel like there could have been no other option. All the songs are new compositions by Solveig, Sjur Miljeteig and Per Oddvar Johansen, with some of the words based upon or taken directly from the American poet, Emily Dickinson.

The blue jazz overtones of the songs are underpinned by lo-fi electronica (with an unexpected feeling of necessity in "How They Shine" that is counterpointed by Sjur Miljeteig's near-formant trumpet playing), and grungy guitars (creeping in throughout the album, making a strange beauty from sounds that sometimes tilt very close to pure noise).

All this comes with dissonant sounds from a variety of sources that magically become harmonic, little snatches of mellotron flutes, glitchy analog synths, British Colliery Brass Band swells (notably on "Your River", which - at its peak - somehow manages to sound like a Wally Stott arrangement for Scott Walker is happening in the room downstairs!), and countless other unexpected textural elements.

This is a rich feast of beautifully composed soundscapes, and indeed - to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, whose presence is both ethereal and literal throughout the album - "Tarpan Seasons" gives the unmistakeable feeling that it is mapping a "landscape of the spirit". And while the prevailing voices of the music are emanating from jazz, blues, and gospel, there are distinct traces of Tom Waits-like New Orleans gumbo (as in the opening song, "Precise Content" that evolves steadily until Solveig is accompanied by a full male voice chant; in "Visit", one of the songs where Emily Dickinson's words are placed in a surprising new context; and in the Per Oddvar Johansen composition, "The Ballad of Jimmi Crawler", held steady by Andreas Ulvo's organ-chords, while Morten Qvenild's harp provides the digression from the norm); Country Music ("December Song" in particular, with its country waltz spirit, although the textures created by Morten Qvenild's Marxophone, Per Oddvar Johansen's bowed saw, Sjur Miljeteig's brass swells and Even Hermansen's tremolo guitar take it somewhere completely new; yet Andreas Ulvo's organ, both here and elsewhere, maintain the country feeling); and moments of Post-Rock anthem (notably "Your River", where after several listens, it's difficult not to sing along; and in "Be Steady" which begins like a late night dark side of the mood jazz bar classic before unravelling itself majestically into a true show-stopping moment with Solveig's voice soaring free above).

The arrangements sidestep well-trodden paths of blue jazz to include the kind of drama found in the music of Angelo Badalamenti and even the quasi-minimalist broken textures of late Talk Talk. By contrast, the near-whimsical "You Go I Go" displays Solveig's voice in multiple layers and harmonies - harmonies so precise they feel like a single voice - while hiding traces of a chain-gang chant beneath its lighter lyrics. "Into The Night" carries a stumbling chord pattern on baritone guitar and organ, each change like a new surprise, some more unexpected than others, resolving into a memorable chorus. Sjur Miljeteig's contributions to this album cannot be underestimated, but it is on "Three Hearts In A Bowl" that his playing is given the full expanse of a remarkable solo to shine. "Right As Rain" begins with expressionistic evocations of raindrops by Jo Berger Myhre's bass - Sjur Miljeteig's solo and Even Hermansen's growling guitar suggest that perhaps everything might not be right as rain before the song changes into a displaced middle-8 filled with a greater optimism and reassurance that everything is as it should be after all. "A Day" closes the album, a tranquil song, where the finals words are again those of Emily Dickinson. It is the essence of a single day carefully wrought in simple words and music, with a wonderfully understated vocal by Solveig.

For those familiar with Solveig's previous outings, there will be many moments that surprise and delight in equal measure, as this album marks a very distinct growth in new directions - but a growth stemming from familiar territory. For newcomers, the rest of us can only envy the experience that awaits them.

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