Solveig Slettahjell, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Three years ago, the huge success of Norah Jones's debut album Come Away with Me concentrated record company executives' minds in a way that only multi-million sales worldwide can. What was a once a trickle of jazzy singers pre-Norah is now a flood. There are Norah Jones soundalikes (Rebecca Martin), Billie Holiday soundalikes (Madeleine Peyroux), Ella Fitzgerald copyists (Jane Monheit) and soul and pop singers singing jazzy stuff. And while most of them can actually be very pleasant, they're not adding anything to what Holiday, Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan did decades ago.

Enter Solveig Slettahjell, a graduate of the Oslo Music Conservatory, who has refined a wholly original approach to jazz singing of her own. First of all, she slows down most of her material, which is why her band - Sjur Miljetieg on trumpet, Morten Qvenlid on piano and electronics, Mats Eilertsen on bass and Per Oddvar Johansen on drums and electronics - are called her Slow Motion Quintet. Her opening number, John Hiatt's "Have A Little Faith In Me", acquired an unexpected gravitas and profundity through her slower choice of tempo. But to get away with it needs a very good voice. Short notes become long notes and long notes become even longer.

On songs like Tom Waits's "Take It With Me", or originals written for her by Peder Kjellsby, like "Hope is the Thing" and "Milo", Slettahjell effortlessly suspended the lyrics in mid-air, a high-wire act where every note is held for an agonisingly long time as she explores its timbral density for expressivity and nuance.

Secondly, she has her Slow Motion Quintet deconstruct each song, reassembling it in completely unexpected ways with subtle sonic washes, jagged piano counterpoint, asymmetric bass patterns and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night drumming.

As a result, their accompaniment seems to inhabit a parallel musical universe - such as the a tempo interlude in the otherwise sprightly "Count the Days". Yet singer and accompanists somehow succeed in coalescing with startling musical logic. It's an approach that is both moving and unsettling. Indeed, listening to Slettahjell can be a profound experience.

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