Silje Nergaard At First Light Review

BBC Review

Seventh album from the Norwegian songstress; 'This one will have you pining for the...

Kathryn Shackleton 2002

At First Light is the second-best-selling jazz album of all time in Silje Nergaard's native Norway. With this (her seventh CD), she's already made it big in the rest of Northern Europe, and in the proud words of the Norwegian Embassy - now she wants to conquer Britain.

Silje's voice is as childlike as Lisa Ekdahl's, and as if that wasn't enough she has a baby on backing vocals! Her songwriting, though, is mature. She can write an expansive melody that's well structured but isn't straitjacketed by chorus and verse.

"Be Still My Heart" comes from the Sting school of navel-gazing, with its falling cadences, rich bass, and Till Bronner's haunting, Chris Botti-esque trumpet. This, and the quietly beautiful "There's Always a First Time", both start with simple melody and instrumentation and grow in complexity. Silje's polished-silver vocals mix with sax and strings to form a precious but strong amalgam, while Magnus Lindgren's sax solo unravels the melody and plays with the loose ends.

Although Silje writes her music at a distance from lyricist Mike McGurk, the produce of their relationship sounds organic as if words and music developed together. In fact, Silje sees the nature of Scandinavian jazz in the need to try to let the melody breathe and it's this sense of space that her voice demands if it's to be at its most individual and expressive.

Only two of the twelve tracks on At First Light threaten to invade Silje's personal space and expose the limitations of a Bo Peep voice. In "Now and Then" the claustrophobic instrumentation leaves few openings for her voice to shine through, while the funky "Keep On Backing Losers" tends to overwhelm her with its heavy rhythm.

When given freedom, though, Silje can do justice to a whole range of material. A touch of Stevie Wonder filters through in her light vibrato and in her voice's natural abandonment, particularly on Stevie Wonder's own "Blame It On the Sun". In contrast, her quick-gliding vocals join Tord Gustavsen's bluesy piano in"There's Trouble Brewing", a powerful and swinginguptempo waltz.

Silje's favourite song on At First Light, "Japanese Blue", is airy and free-flowing, with the unsettling sound of a trumpet masquerading as a shakuhachi. No such instrumental illusions are used in the last track, "Lullaby to Erle", though. Recorded in Siljes house, it's folky and fairytale, reminiscent of Hushabye Mountain, and it's whispered right in your ear. Backed by Baby Erle on chimes and gurgles, and by Nils Einar Vijor on acoustic guitar, Silje's voice is all nostalgia and bliss. This one will have you pining for the fjords!

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