She may not be considered jazz by most (including herself), but singer/songwriter Norah Jones' widespread acclaimnormally afforded artists in the pop mainstreamisn't necessarily a bad thing. If her smoky and understated delivery encourages fans to investigate other singers more clearly associated with jazz there's hope that a certain percentage might actually choose to stick around.
If Norah Jones is the stepping stone then Swedish singer Jeanette Lindström is the bridge with In the Middle of This Riddle. She's capable, at times, of the same sultry delivery that makes Jones so appealing, but possesses a purer tonesweet without being syrupy. While she generally leans towards the same kind of less-is-more approach that defines Jones, she makes it clear on tracks like the fiery "From This Tower where she scats up a stormthat she's got jazz chops to spare.
To followers of Swedish bassist Anders Jorminbest known internationally for his ECM recordings as a leader and work with Bobo Stenson, Tomasz Stanko and Charles LloydLindström's jazz cred will come as no surprise. On his outstanding Once (Dragon, 1996), she tackles Jormin's own lyrical material and music by Ornette Coleman with equal aplomb and avante edge. She may possess formidable technique but, completely comfortable in her abilities, she's got nothing to prove. Consequently she avoids excessive displays so characteristic of those who are more concerned with themselves than the deeper demands of the music.
In the Middle of This Riddle is unequivocally a jazz record, but it's clearly of a more contemporary bentthere are no standards to be found, with Lindström the sole composer of its twelve tracks. The music ranges from the gently funky sway of "Always driven by Daniel Karlsson's Wurlitzer, Christian Spering's double-bass and drummer Peter Danemo's delicate-yet-propulsive brushworkto the folksy and almost imperceptibly irregular-metered "Leaf, a more unplugged affair featuring Peter Nylander's fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Both may recall Jones' smoky ambience, but they represents but one aspect of Lindström's muse.
"Too is an elegantly rubato tone poem that finds Lindström's quintet mining the kind of temporal elasticity that seems almost exclusive territory of Scandinavian jazzers, with Danemo's kit work reminiscent of Norwegian ECM stalwart Jon Christensen. Staffan Svensson's pungent trumpet tone rests somewhere between Nils Petter Molvær's breathy ethereality and Tomasz Stanko's raspy lyricism. The brief maelstrom of "Going Up is equally liberal with time, with Nylander's distorted guitar and Karlsson's Stenson-like melodic free-play strongly supporting Lindström's knotty melody.
While there's an unquestionable European impressionism at work, Lindström has clearly spent time studying American singers including Dianne Reeves and Abbey Lincoln, as well as R&B singers like Stevie Wonder, who clearly informs the soulful swing of "Here.
It's a shame that In the Middle of This Riddle doesn't have North American distribution. Lindström proves that there is a link between Norah Jones' pop sensibility and a clearer jazz-centricityand would no doubt find a welcoming audience on this side of the Atlantic for her accessible yet uncompromising work.
North Americans can find In the Middle of This Riddle through AV&P Distribution.