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June 2005

In the Country
This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat
Rune Grammofon

Keyboardist Morten Qvenild is one of Norway's most valuable utility players. He is the "orchestra" in the incredible post-Bjork duo Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, writer and arranger for jazz singer Solveig Slettahjell, former member of pop-prog-jazz instrumentalists Jaga Jazzist and Shining and part of chart-topping supergroup the National Bank. Qvenild gets to display his piano-jazz chops with In the Country, featuring bassist Roger Arntzen and drummer Pal Hausken, and the trio's debut CD is a stunner.

From the jazz world, Qvenild cites Paul Bley and Norwegian free player Svein Finnerud as influences; from classical, Olivier Messiaen and Morton Feldman. Qvenild also has a great ear for pop melodies: His gorgeous solo cover of Ryan Adams' woozy ballad "In My Time of Need," played with almost no extrapolation on the theme, renders the song a pure lullaby. Qvenild's mixture of jazz phrasing, classical sensibilities and love of songcraft leads In the Country through 11 songs that rarely rise above a whisper but carry the emotional power of a screaming stack of Marshall amps.

The album is so focused that the tracks work together like a suite, but individual highlights abound. "Beaver Creek" starts as a meditation and builds to something like slow-motion free jazz before returning to the gentle melody. "How to Get Acquainted" rumbles through sublimely measured tension that, when released, feels like a giant hook in a pop song. "Viggo" features Hausken's haunted wail, singing wordlessly with the melody. The CD closes with Handel's reverential lament "Laschia Ch'io Pianga," played by Qvenild on a Casio SK-10-simultaneously postmodern and classic, just like the rest of the album.

Originally published in June 2005
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