Seasonal Greetings from Norway

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Norwegian jazz musicians long enjoyed playing and recording seasonal and traditional songs. Think, for example, of the beautiful solo piano arrangements of Christmas songs by keyboard player Bugge Wesseltoft on It's Snowing On My Piano (ACT, 1997) or the trio of guitarist Frode Alnaes, bassist Arild Andersen and accordionist Stian Carstensen following the same vein on Julegloggen (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2003).

Albums by vocalist Solveig Slettahjell (with pianist Tord Gustavsen) and The Source, have an added value beyond beautiful arrangements of seasonal songs. Each release, in its own innocent and humble manner, calls for cultural inclusivity and peace. Each is warmly recommended.

Solveig Slettahjell
Natt I Bethlehem
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

The head of the Oslo-based Kirkelig Kulturverksted label, producer Erik Hillested, brought vocalist Solveig Slettahjell and pianist Tord Gustavsen to the ancient Nativity Church in the besieged town of Bethlehem to record this arresting collection of Christmas songs. Ever since the three Magi came bearing gifts to Jesus more than 2,000 years ago, this church has been a place where people have brought their most beautiful possessions, as a way of honoring Jesus' birth. Slettahjell's vocals and Gustavsen's piano playing may be considered among the most impressive gifts brought to this church in modern times.

Sletthajell performs with an intensity and devotion that create an immediate and intimate emotional impact. The warmth and depth of her voice and her emotional intelligence are both simply perfect. Gustavsen, who has accompanied other Norwegian vocalists such as Siri Gjaere, Silje Nergaard and Kristin Asbjornsen, is a trusty partner, framing the traditional songs in spare and modest yet memorable arrangements. The duo recorded the 13 songs—traditional Norwegian Christmas songs and other songs associated with the season—after the Franciscan monks retired for the night, using the exceptional acoustics of the church. Gustavsen used a 1882 Steinway piano belonging to the local conservatory, and later on trumpet player Sjur Miljeteig, a member of Slettahjell's Slow Motion Quintet, added his part.

The tone of most of the songs is meditative and contemplative, slow-motioned as Slettahjell prefers, allowing the sheer beauty of each utterance and note to shine forth. The songs embrace the listener with gentle tranquility and warm the soul, regardless of any particular religious conviction. The album would be a lovely Christmas present given between loved ones.

Visit Solveig Slettahjell and Tord Gustavsen on the web.

The Source
Of Christmas Live
Grappa Records

Anyone who only knows the singular Norwegian composer and saxophonist Trygve Seim and his quartet The Source—featuring trombonist Oyvind Braekke, bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen—through their severe and meditative ECM releases will be surprised by this joyful festive release (a double CD). The extended ensemble was faithfully recorded live (by Jan Erik Kongshaug) two weeks before Christmas 2005, performing seasonal favorites in front of an enthusiastic audience. All kinds of tunes were included—traditional Norwegian hymns, beautiful compositions by Bach and Ravel, songs penned by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Mel Torme, and adaptions of some favorite The Source compositions. The Source performs the show with these same songs every year.

The Source have been active since 1994 and their close interplay is very evident in their own versions of the seasonal songs, which are mainly on the first disc. The band's well-forged and reliable interplay also supports the guest artists, especially on the second disc when they are joined by a group of Egyptian musicians from Fathy Salama's Cairo Orchestra (this is part of an ongoing collaboration between Seim and the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Salam's Orchestra and Alfred Gameel's Qithara). The holiday scenery changes from freezing Norway to a steaming Cairo night club, as if Santa Claus exchanged his sleigh and reindeers for a wild camel and headed for the pyramids.

The collaboration is magical and pushes The Source, as well as the audience, to some inspired gestures. The Christmas songs, such as "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and traditional Norwegian song "Pa Laven Sitter Nissen," dance leisurely and mysteriously between Middle-Eastern scales and Western articulations in an organic manner, but with a clearer edge and some welcome recklessness. The gentle and playful oud and bass duet on "Musevisa" (The Mouse Song), between Alfred Gamil and Eilertsen, charges this Norwegian children's song with surprising energy.

Other highlights include vocalist and actress Tora Augestad turning one of The Source's most beautiful compositions, "Mmball"—featured on The Source and Different Cicadas (ECM, 2002) and on Seim's collaboration with accordionist Frode Haltli Yeraz (ECM, 2008)—into a majestic Christmas hymn, "Glade Julemmball." Augestad's funny, Kurt Weillesque version to "Der Weihnachtsmann Kommt Zu Stadt" (Santa Claus Is Coming To Town) sounds more as if Santa is coming to the town's whiskey bar. Then there's a hilarious rockabilly/country arrangement of "Jesus Kristus," that sounds as if it's paying tribute to wild Balkan speed boogie of Carstensen's Farmers Market. The dreamy version of Maurice Ravel's "A Le Bourdon De Noel" is a beautiful conclusion to this emotional performance.

Visit The Souce of Christmas on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Natt I Bethlehem

Tracks: Stille Natt (Silent Night); A Kunne Jeg Bare Bli Barn Igjen (Oh To Be A Child Again); Kling No Klokka (Ring Ye Bell); Jul, Jul, Stralande Jul (Christmas, Radiant Christmas); O Poor Little Jesus; Mitt Hjerte Vanker (My Heart Is Always With Jesus); Star Carol; O Little Town Of Bethlehem; Sleep Holy Baby; Jeg Synger Juletid (In Dolce Jubil); I Denne Sorte Juletid (At This Joyful Christmas Tide); Det Kimer Na Yil Julefest (The Bells Of Christmas Chime Once More; Nar Det Lider Mot Jul (Christmas Draws Nigh); Delig Er Jorden (Beautiful Saviour).

Personnel: Solveig Slettahjell: vocals; Tord Gustavsen: piano; Sjur Miljeteig: trumpet.

Of Christmas Live

Tracks: CD1: Overture The Source: Of Christmas - Le Sacre De Noël / From All Of Us To All Of You / Siv Og Aks Paa Gronne Enge / Winachtsmarsch / Winter Wonderland; All Bla De Er Glad / Jul Of Bjelleklang; O Helga Natt; Du Grønne Glitrende Tre, Goddag; Glade Julemball; White Christmas / Snow; Lett Plukk Fra Luleoratoriet; Little Drummer Boy Late For Tango; Christmas Song; Jesse Kristus / Et Barn Er Fodt I Betlehem; Der Weihnachtsmann Kommt Zu Stadt; We Wish You A Merry Christmas. CD2: Oriental Overture The Source: Of Christmas; Jeg Gikk Meg Over Sjo Og Land; Twelve Days Of Christmas; Christmas In Cairo; Silent Night; Jon Blund; Musevisa; Romjuldrøm; Deilig Er Den Arabiske Himmel Bla; Pa Laven Sitter Nissen; Deilig Er Den Himmel Bla; Ravel A Le Bourdon De Noel.

Personnel: Trygve Seim: saxophones; Oyvind Braekke: trombone; Mats Eilertsen: bass; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums. Guests: Anne-Lise Berntsen: mezzosoprano; Lars Klevstrand: vocals; Jarle Bernhoft: vocals, guitar; Tora Augestad: vocals; Cheb Hocine Derras: vocals; Marvin Charles: vocals; Frode Haltli: accordion; Finn Guttormsen: dobro; Fathy Salama: piano; Alfred Gamil: violin, oud; Saleh el Artist: accordion; Mamdouh Serour: ney; Ayman Sedki: djembe; Ramadan Mohamed tabla, Egyptian darboka; Ahmd El Ghazar: sagat, dance; Mathias Eick: bass (CD1); Hakon Mjaset Johansen: drums (CD1); The Royal Norwegian Navy Band condcted by Christian Eggen.


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