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CD: Susanna & The Magical Orchestra 'Lists of Lights and Buoys', The Wire, Jazzwise

The Wire August 2004, Jazzwise August 2004

23/07/2004 :: Young Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød has only one member in her orchestra – ex-Jaga Jazzist keybordist Morten Qvenild. Both are based in Kongsberg, a small town west of Oslo best known for its free thinking jazz festival. The couple’s spare, loosely threaded soundscapes are created using a minimal set-up of keyboard, harmonium and autoharp, which provide a vibrant range of textures for Wallumrød’s elegiac, wandering vocals to coil around.

The introductory two tracks on their debut album, Lists Of Lights And Buoys, are covers. The first, an intriguing rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s “Who am I”, opens with Wallumrød’s a cappella verse, occasionally coloured by solitary dashes of keyboard. Her style of singing – sorrowful, mellifluous, sustained – charmingly complements Bernstein’s composition, and when the route breaks halfway through and the instrumentation kicks up a step, she gracefully embraces the fuller sound as her voice plays up to the sparkling cascade of autoharp. When applied to a slowed down, skimpy version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, however, these enchanting qualities have a tendency to bleed into irksome tweeness, and the intimacy of the original is somewhat lost.

The following nine tracks are original arrangements and show off the duo’s flair for unusually structured rhythm, which is made all the more distinctive due to the lightness of the intstrumentation. Although Qvenild’s finespun spider webs of sound function mainly to create an atmospheric backdrop for Wallumrød’s vocals, they also provide a gentle rhythmic pulse that she can work against. Often, her voice will dip prematurely to the bar, or linger freely and indecisively into the middle of another before dropping in to conclude a lyric that would otherwise sound finished. This odd configuration, combined with the strenght of Wallumrød’s vocals and her peculiar, clipped intonation, steers List Of Lights And Buoys away from predictability, making it a rewarding listen. The interweaving of idiosyncratic textures and timing gradually shapes an appealing silhouette of sound that alternately deepens and pales, allowing Wallumrød to whip and tuck her vocals around the sweet greyness of minor chords and the infrequent beat of a timpani.

Mia Clarke / The Wire

(2 out of 5 stars)

This album sets Norwegian vocalist Susanna Wallumrød’s fragile, girly-toned voice against a transluctent, electronic sound texture subtly sculpted by keyboardist Morten Qvenild. Jaga Jazzist’s Andreas Mjøs and Deathprod do production duties on a set of mainly originals plus a broody interpretation of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’. But somehow for all its ghostly intimacy, it’s not quite penetrating enough and fails to conjure up any of the quiet vigour of a singer working in a similar field, Sidsel Endresen.

Selwyn Harris / Jazzwise

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