Solveig Slettahjell, Guldlock, Jazzland ****

Let's face it, fellow jazz lovers and mavericks railing against the tedious norm - you are not going to find what you want obviously anywhere much in the mainstream. It won't be in the dumbed down regular ''music charts'', yeah, sarcasm in the …

Published: 16 Feb 2023. Updated: 41 days.

Let's face it, fellow jazz lovers and mavericks railing against the tedious norm - you are not going to find what you want obviously anywhere much in the mainstream.

It won't be in the dumbed down regular ''music charts'', yeah, sarcasm in the quote marks. Or playing at the place down the road where the booking party people in charge haven't a clue and should be playing the best but choose to put on the worst of all lowest common denominators to disguise their lack of knowledge at the expense of finding bums for banquettes and big up their pretence at being that most ephemeral of all things trendy instead.

The media you consume won't be bothered. But that doesn't meant it's not desirable. And you won't find satisfaction in the plastic Great American Songbookness of your favourite new twentysomething hopeful.

Because desirable is the name of the game here interpreting such delights as a song by Swedish pop singer Eva Dahlgren from the 1990s largely unknown to Anglophone audiences 'Guldlock' from the big selling Swedish album of the era En blekt blondins hjärta (translated as 'Heart of a bleached blonde') is a point of entry that works whether you know the song or typically tend not to immerse yourself in Scandinavian pop songs.

Slettahjell, who has mournful intensity to her mezzo knowingness, with the Slow Motion Orchestra 20 years ago was able to sing a jazz standard as convincingly as anyone then or now and certainly the singer ranks with the best European jazz singers of her generation (she is in her early-fifties) whether on her own projects or in collaboration with such titans of European jazz piano as fellow Norwegian Tord Gustavsen.

Slettahjell was last on our radar during Lockdown with Come in from the Rain an album that had a very different vintage flavour to it, something the singer does very well, chiming nicely in a Madeleine Peyroux type style.

On that Great American Songbook-dominated record she was with pianist Andreas Ulvo, bassist Trygve Waldemar Fiske and drummer Pål Hausken and the songs they interpreted included the Loewe/Lerner standard 'On The Street Where You Live' and Irving Berlin's 'How Deep Is The Ocean.'

On 'Gold Lock' the impenetrable lyrics from the Swedish depending on your interpretation deal with a protagonist looking for gold, not the flashy glittering type, or even literally gold at all - more about non-judgemental freedom, a freeing of the mind to transport oneself into another mutually supportive and loving community.

The arrangement of Slettahjell's version is different to Dahlgren's while retaining a deeply melancholic mood. So no solo soprano saxophone line (on the Dahlgren version it was saxist Jonas Knutsson) and a choice in this new version of a very still against offbeats sound to begin then a splash of cymbal and a dialogue with piano. And while the project will be of most interest to listeners from the Nordic countries the language barrier does not take away from the beauty of what we have heard by any means. The wider album includes music by Grieg, Lars Lillo-Stenberg and Allan Edwall plus songs by Slettahjell and her pianist Andreas Ulvo - excellent on last year's Mathias Eick album When We Leave. We'd be shocked if any jazz vocal album from Europe comes close to this in 2023. Yes singing in a language other than English is a barrier but this is beyond partisan linguistic preference totally non pareil in its pristine clarity. The way the piano accompaniment understands what's going on is a cut above the quotidien. Out tomorrow

Solveig Slettahjell, photo: press

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Christine Tobin, Returning Weather, Trail Belle *****

''The ever changing weather suits my restlessness:'' Dark and at times radical the first thing that sends shivers down the spine on a first record in far too long from Ireland's greatest jazz singer is the uilleann pipes of David Power on 'Loch …

Published: 16 Feb 2023. Updated: 41 days.

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''The ever changing weather suits my restlessness:'' Dark and at times radical the first thing that sends shivers down the spine on a first record in far too long from Ireland's greatest jazz singer is the uilleann pipes of David Power on 'Loch Glinne,' a piece that later returns equally evocatively further on in this 9-track album. Later its droning soulfulness is set against wordless vocalising. ''Fish in the barrel'' is the first metaphorical conceit in words to roll from the mouth of Christine Tobin as a conversational response returns from Power against the lapping piano accompaniment of Steve Hamilton and viola for the lower tonal resonance of Cora Venus Lunny.

Tobin specialises in the poetic whether in the past inspired by the work of Leonard Cohen, Brian Wilson or most meaningfully her own Paul Muldoon-esque erudite sense of a lyric. Completing the line-up here is guitarist Phil Robson who takes a back seat in early passages of the album but makes his presence felt later more.

Tobin has been back living in Ireland since the disaster of the pandemic when she and Robson left America for Roscommon. Panoramic with a huge wisdom to both the lyrical expansionism and the sense of song within an instrumental vista the album is full of delightful artifice and a turn down the lamp storytelling sense of song outdoors in the landscape of Ireland. 'Mullach na Sí' is the most moving of the traditional pieces (this piece isn't jazz at all) harnessing the glide and pitch bending shamanism of the pipes that sees Power once again stealing the show as the pipes often do in Irish traditional music when the power of the dirge and a heartfelt lament that stops being a lament is most needed and when the hope of Tobin's eidily-eidily vocalese by the end adds light and life.

Tobin knows how to harness traditional Irish music and jazz better than most and it is a natural fit no matter how differently arrived at. Recorded last August at a residential recording studio at Moate in County Westmeath, Tobin sings about the natural world, its hares and crows, sedges and heather where on the song named for the former coupling the creaking of a clock and brutal woodlands are captured on the most avant garde track of all these blissfully challenging songs. Into the art of the unknowable witchcraft of song venture there dear reader. Robson plays a Frisellian dreamscape to perfection in the introduction to 'Sedges and Heather' before veering off stylistically. 'July' at the end is a rolling pastoral and a hymn to the evening sky. Pick of the trad tracks is 'Callow.' Nothing short of a masterwork - Tobin's best original work in a long and distinguished career inspired all over again. Out on 3 March. Christine Tobin photo: press

Touring to John Field Room, National Concert Hall, Dublin 1 March; Dolans, Limerick city 2 March; Triskel, Cork city 3 March; Town Hall, Westport, Co. Mayo 4 March; National Opera House, Wexford 8 March; The Concert Hall, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny 9 March; Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal 10 March; The Dock, Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim 11 March and Glór, Ennis, Co. Clare 18 March.

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