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Concert: Silje Nergaard at Queen's Hall Edinburgh, The Scotsman

The Scotsman 2 August 2004

13/09/2004 :: AS THE huge crossover successes of Norah Jones, Katie Melua, Amy Winehouse et al proves, jazz is no longer the sole preserve of goatee-stroking black, beret-wearing Beatniks. In fact, right now, it’s the flavour of the month.

This latest jazz revival can be traced back to 1999, and to pianist Diana Krall, whose album When I Look in Your Eyes was a global hit.

Since then, a glut of performers - with easy-listening, jazz-lite, blues and folksy pop appeal - has blurred music’s traditional categories. This has helped move jazz away from the traditional late-night smoky basements and into the pop charts.

While she could hardly be said to be spearheading this new jazz revolution, 38-year-old Silje Nergaard is one of the few with the potential to measure up to the genre’s greats. Headlining the Starbucks Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival on Saturday evening, the Norwegian jazz/pop singing sensation captivated a packed Queen’s Hall with her silky, sultry voice and engaging stage persona.

Among those in attendance was Edinburgh’s very own jazz-soul chanteuse, Niki King. Herself due to play in front of a home crowd at the same venue this weekend , King will have to go some to top Nergaard’s performance. Evocative, provocative and willfully unpredictable, Nergaard’s diverse vocals felt both old and new, recalling the great female jazz singers of yesteryear and some today’s pop stars.

Nergaard has within the last six years established herself as one of Norway’s most respected jazz singers. She cultivated her love for jazz alongside a liking of pop music as a youngster and has garnered much attention since making her debut at Norway’s Molde International Jazz Festival as a 16-year-old.

She then went on to establish a reputation as pop star - some will remember her one and only UK hit, Tell Me Where You’re Going, from 1990. Today, however, she is rightfully hailed by the critics back home as "the queen of Norwegian jazz".

Live, Nergaard sounded a little bit Diana Krall, a little Joni Mitchell and a little Lisa Ekdahl. Looking every inch the kind of girlish singer who makes males go weak at the knees. Backed by a stellar combo of Tord Gustavsen (piano), Harald Johnsen (bass), Hallgrim Bratberg (guitar) and Jarle Vespetad (drums), the sultry vocalist opened her relatively short set with an atmospheric tune that set the tone for the evening.

An arresting rendition of How Am I Supposed to See the Stars followed, before the singer performed one of her best-known numbers, Unbreakable Heart. The repertoire was mostly Nergaard’s own songs - though the singer and her backing band did perform fresh arrangements of Sting’s If You Love Somebody and Pat Metheny’s collaboration with David Bowie, This Is Not America.

Certainly, there was plenty here to admire - including stunning renditions of Be Still My Heart and Japanese Blue. However, the highlight came during the encore when the singer performed a lyrical lullaby she wrote to coax her baby daughter to sleep.

Even before the Norwegian had arrived in the Capital, her appearance was being billed as the possible highlight of this year’s Starbucks Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. And judging by the reaction of the crowd, Nergaard’s performance is going to take some beating.

GARY FLOCKHART

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