As one of Norway’s top jazz vocalists, Solveig Slettahjell (pronounced “Sul-vay Shlet-i-Yell”) leads an enjoyable double life as a performer and as a teacher of jazz. Critics and fans tag her as a soulful chanteuse, capable of capturing the spirit of any song or melody and carefully bending it in a new direction. European academics regard her as a positive-minded educator, knowledgeable about a wide variety of Scandinavian folk and spiritual music and popular styles.
“I don’t think I’m a very strategic musician,” she says with a bit of laugh. “I have been able to make my own choices with music, though. Teaching and performing are both fulfilling and fun at the same time. Of course, it’s hard to do both and it’s a matter of finding time for each one. I’d rather not choose between one or the other. Fortunately, my school is appreciative of the fact that I actually get out there and perform and record. As well, my band is flexible with my schedule as a teacher.”
Born in Bærum near Oslo in 1971, Slettahjell grew up in the small town of Orkanger near Trondheim. She sang in church choirs, where her father was pastor, often accompanying on the piano. As a young teen, she started performing and arranging her own versions of hymns, spirituals, and Norwegian religious folk songs, as well as her own compositions.
Vocal ensembles played a major role in Slettahjell’s early musical work. She worked in the trio vonDrei for three years, focusing on classical contemporary music and improvised music. Other collaborations included the larger vocal ensemble Trondheim Voices and Sidsel Endresen`s project, Living Rooms.
Slettahjell studied classical piano and voice at a secondary school for music in Trondheim before going on to jazz studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music, where she finished her master’s degree in 2000. Her final exam included a thesis on the “rhythmic aspects of phrasing” and a concert, which spawned the beginnings of her current ensemble, The Slow Motion Quintet.
The current version of the Slow Motion Quintet includes pianist Morten Qvenild, trumpet player Sjur Miljeteig, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen.
The group specializes in elegant renditions of classic jazz standards, popular tunes from American radio, and newer works by emerging composers — all of which are delivered in a signature, slow-rolling manner. In 2005, the Slow Motion Quintet received the Spellemannsprisen award (the “Norwegian Grammy”) for their album Silver (Curling Legs). Slettahjell’s impressive depth and vocal range — and her band’s sense of Norwegian melancholy and emotion — are demonstrated on their new album, Pixiedust (Curling Legs).
“I think there is a certain recognizable ‘Norwegian’ sound in our music,” says Slettahjell. “There is a very active jazz scene in Oslo and Norway. Perhaps some of the elements of folk music — sometimes dark, sometimes not — make their way in. For critics and journalists, this is the case. To me, Norwegian music is very clean and clear. Maybe there is an element of the weather and landscape. There’s definitely a serene, melancholy feel to much of it.”
SOLVEIG SLETTAHJELL • Spoleto Festival USA’s Wachovia Jazz Series • $25-$40 • May 26, 27 at 9 p.m. • 1 hour 15 min • The Cistern, 66 George St. • 554-6060
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