Cool Norway seems to be the most efficient hothouse for new talents in Europe in recent years. Vocalist Solveig Slettahjell is by no means a new talent, but only now is her third solo disc, with her Slow Motion Quintet, being distributed outside of Norway. Slettahjell was a student of renowned Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen, with whom she collaborated recently in Jon Balke's Batagraf ensemble (Statements, ECM, 2005). She recorded with the experimental all-female vocal quartet Kvitretten, with jazz singers Eldbjørg Raknes, Kristin Asbjörnsen and Tone Åse, and teaches jazz singing at the Norwegian Academy of Music.
Her quintet members accompanied her through her two previous discs, Slow Motion Orchestra and Silver (Curling Legs, 2001 and 2004); the latter won the Spellemannspris, the Norwegian Grammy, in 2004. They are experienced players and leaders of their own ensembles. Pianist Morten Qvenild is a key member of In The Country, Shining and Susanah, and the Magical Orchestra, all outfits which released their music through Rune Grammofon. Bassist Mats Eilertsen leads his own quartet and is a member of the English-Norwegian quartet Food and percussionist Thomas Strønen's Parish, as well as saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and pianist Håvard Wiik's trios. Trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig is a member of the popular electro-jazz outfit Jaga Jazzist. Drummer Per Oddvar Johansen has recorded with reed player and composer Trygve Seim, guitarist Jacob Young, pianist Christian Wallumrød, and even a quartet led by ECM's Rainbow studio master sound engineer, Jan Erik Kongshaug.
The maturity of the quintet's members and the restrained and subtle approach of Sletttahjell contribute to the success of this release. Slettahjell and her songwriter collaborator, Peder Kjellsby, collected eleven songs that deal with hope, faith, imagination and dreams. As Slettahjell sings in "Starpillow," "to dream is to believe."
The disc opens with a beautiful arrangement of the Emily Dickinson poem "Hope is the thing with feathers," performed with a haunting autoharp intro by Qvenild, and it concludes with a leisurely electronic version of the Walt Disney classic "When You Wish Upon A Star," done here as if Slettahjell is casting a promising spell upon her listeners. Of course, the pixiedust refers to the fairy in the Peter Pan story, Tinkerbelle, and that pixiedust, along with faith and trust, are the ingredients for the domestic fantasy that is drawn so beautifully in Slettahjell's lyrics on "Faith, trust and pixiedust." Her cover of John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me" is no longer the desperate plea it was in Hiatt's original version, but a comforting promise. Her version of Billy Holiday's classic "Don't Explain" carries a more reconciling message than Holliday's own sober version.
Qvenild adds detailed electronic ornamentations that highlight the delicacy of the arrangements. Miljeteig's breathy tone, Johansen's caress of the cymbals, and Eilertsen's assured and economic playing, along with the fragile yet warm vocals of Slettahjell and her cohesive vision of Pixiedust, create a really magical listening experience. You may be convinced by her pledge that "anything your heart desires will come to you."
Personnel: Solveig Slettahjell: vocals; Sjur Miljeteig: trumpet; Morten Qvenild: piano, autoharp,
electronics; Mats Eilertsen: bass; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums.