The gorgeous ”This Was The Pace Of My Heartbeat”, the debut album by the trio In The Country, is arguably the label´s first jazz recording, and it´s a doozy. There´s a hovering lyricism that suggests a kinship with the more streamlined work of fellow Norwegian Tord Gustavsen. In The Country ranges farther afield. There´s a definite sense of pop melody in the gorgeous compositions, but pianist Morten Qvenild isn´t afraid to pile up notes no matter how slow and deliberately he moves, while drummer Pål Hausken is more apt to ditch steady puls for erratic little splatters of metal and wood that provide a delicious tension to the otherwise serene happenings. It´s one of the finest and most arresting albums to come out of Europe this year.
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 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.
Produced by the trumpeter Arve Henriksen, a man of progidious subtlety and heartbreaking good taste, 'This Was the Pace…', boasting the talents of Morten Qvenild (of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra fame) on keys, Roger Arntzen on double bass and Pal Hausken on percussion, isn't going to do much to dispel the commonly-held notion that Scandinavian jazz is glacial and beautiful. Because for the most part the music made by this trio is both. And I for one say 'fantastic.' Qvenild's subtlety and touch, his ear for moments of gentle dissonance and little songs-inside-songs disguised as embellishment, inevitably recall Tord Gustavsen and Abdullah Ibrahim. This is epic on the sly; forceful, serious stuff concealed by all that restraint and simplicity, with interesting textures and dynamics to spare. When the songs finish they leave a space. I want to buy everything released by Rune Grammofon.
Straight No Chaser (UK)
No standards to be found here, and with an approach that intentionally steers away from emulating any kind of expected jazz tradition, ”This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat” is nevertheless the most organic recording the label has released. And one that can absolutely be considered a jazz record if, of course, you're prepared to accept groups like E.S.T. and the Bad Plus as jazz. Not that there's a whole lot to link In the Country with those aforementioned popular re-inventors of the piano trio, although pianist Morten Qvenild certainly shares a disposition, at least at times, towards compositions with a certain pop sensibility and structure. But whereas E.S.T.'s Esbjorn Svensson clearly comes from the Keith Jarrett school of thought, and the Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson owes a clear debt to Thelonious Monk, Qvenild's influences are distinctly un-jazzy. Sure, there's a certain sense of abstraction and free play that makes “Trio for Quartet” an undeniable backwards glance at Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian; but elsewhere there's an almost naïve lyricism and spacious melancholy that comes from another place entirely. Qvenild, in fact, cites modern composers Oliver Messiaen and Morton Feldman for their use of space and texture, and in the way that notes often seem to linger almost subconsciously, the influence is clear. With its air of dark tranquility, ”This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat” may not have the immediate catchiness of releases by E.S.T. or the Bad Plus. But in many ways it's even more compelling, with an approach that, in its purity and lack of presumption, never approaches shtick or artifice.
Formerly a member of Jaga Jazzist, Morten Qvenild´s debut as a leader (he is still only 26) was much anticipated. He does not disappoint. His fragmented lyricism, quirky compositions and a mature, yet self possessed approach mark him out a potentially major talent. Qvenild is one of Norwegian jazz´s awkward customers, his music does not leap out and embrace you, and in many ways seems like one vast acrostic. Once solved, you suddenly realise how original he is.
In jazz we frequently experience new piano trios, but its long between every time one is already in full bloom. In The Country offer full colours from the very first careful stroke and make it clear that we are about to experience something more than the average piano player and his backing musicians. ”This Was The Pace Of My Heartbeat” lets all three have space upfront, without giving the music breathing problems and the musical content is free from romantic sentimentality. The open and slow pieces carry a refined resistance and careful originality. 5/6.
Through nine Qvenild-compositions and Ryans Adams ”In My Time Of Need” and Händels ”Laschia Ch´io Pianga” they establish a strong and original acoustic expression, sort of a Tord Gustavsen Trio meet The Bad Plus approach. Like Gustavsen Qvenild is a pianist who often finds his way straight to the melodic essence. But like The Bad Plus´ Ethan Iverson he can also lead way in a harmonically naive and freejazzrocking way. Arntzen and Hausken are integrated far beyond the traditional support roles, and are colouring this exceptionally great and fascinating span with much sensitivity.
Let it be clear straight away: All expectations and more are met by one of the most beautiful and distinctive trio recordings to come my way in many years. The stream of new, fresh and original musicians and groups seems to be unstoppable in Norwegian jazz. All three have some years before they reach thirty. Therefor it´s no less than impressive to listen to the maturity they show, both individually and as a collective. In The Country go straight to the top and this trio should be sent out as ambassadors and an example of what is happening here up north. This is world class, no less!
These are beautiful, sacred, fragile, simple but at the same time intricate pieces, built around Qvenild´s keyboard qualities. It´s not difficult to understand that they were made ”best young jazz musicians” at the Molde festival last year. Should one point at any tracks, the original compositions ”How To Get Acquainted”, ”Only The Birds Can See Us” and ”Aerial Dark Bright Round” are lovely. But choosing some tracks before others isn´t really right, everything on the album is of a very high quality.
Neste Klikk (NO)
They take you on a trip to the country, where few jazzmusicians have been before. They don´t follow any path, but make their own. They lead you into a landscape you have seen before, but make you see it with new eyes and realize you didn´t know that it was so shimmering, magical and beautiful.
With ”This Was The Pace Of My Heartbeat” In The Country sneak their way under the skin. They appear as a harmonious ensemble with an excellent understanding about pauses in the music. This is a very solid debut that not only establishes the band as a force to reckon with in the increasingly strong jazz scene in this country, but also confirms Qvenild as one of our best writers in any genre.
Some might be offended that ”jazz” is no longer a holy grail for the initiated, but we´ll leave that to them. This is fascinating, challenging and playful, and they don´t give a shit about what people might want the define their music as, they just want you to listen. 5/6.
Natt og Dag (NO)
The trio is distinguished by its creativity, good tunes and exciting inner musical chemistry. ”Pace...” has it´s rougher moments, but is mostly beautiful and melancholic, and most will remember it for its atmosphere.
Avisa Nordland (NO)
After playing the cd numerous times it is clear that Qvenild is an incredibly gifted talent. His playing goes from the almost stationary and reflective to pure fireworks. The recording is varied regarding dynamics, intensity and energy and there´s an audible red tread throughout. Beautiful!
In The Country exploit the possibilities of the trio format to the full, from the low key to more energetic bursts. Elements from pop, rock, modern jazz and classical are mixed into a demanding but delicious release.
Tønsbergs Blad (NO)
Throughout this sturdy, likeable debut album, the pace is languid and unhurried, all the better for Qvenild's trio to investigate what can be achieved by widening and deepening the space between the notes. Despite the accent on minimalism throughout, there is a richness and a shine to how the trio operate, demonstrated most clearly in the streamlining of Ryan Adams's ”In My Time of Need” into a gentle jazz-kissed anthem for the small hours that could have been touched by the hands of Bill Evans.
The Irish Times (IR)
First track ”Where Can We Go” sounds more like Bill Evans taking Emperor Joseph II's admonition 'Too many notes, my dear Mozart' to heart. It is a beautiful arrangement of pendant notes, but its ancestry is more Brian Eno than Evans or Cecil Taylor. ”Beaver Creek´s” pace is slowed down to the point of being almost stationary. From its thrumming bass to its distant percussion, everything about its first half oozes studious lassitude. By its midpoint however, the music rouses itself to a shuddering climax before sinking back, once again, into exhausted lethargy. The whole album is beautifully recorded; each sonic detail sits beautifully within the wider musical context, conveying a rich sense of perspective. The connection to jazz is occasional, just as there's a tangential connection to the blues. It doesn't really matter of course. In The Country's roots sound as though they reach equally into the rich mulch of soundtracks or folk or gospel. Having said that, if you're a fan of the more lyrical, meditative elements of Esbjorn Svensson Trio or The Bad Plus then this will be for you. Whatever the genealogy, ”This Was The Pace Of My Heartbeat” makes for beautiful instrumental music.
The Milk Factory (UK)
In The Country craft outland jazz of dark tranquility and spectral dissonance, fusing naive melodies and dense, layered improv like a spectral Dollar Brand playing for the Norse gods. Whether on their own compositions or a wee hours cover of Ryan Adams´ “In My Time Of Need”, all is deceptively innocent, a fairy tale trip from hazy sunrise to ´round midnight, illuminated by moments of bright, autumnal clarity. A startling debut. 4/5.
There are, and will always be, other ways to organise piano-trio music than those uncovered by Evans, LaFaro and Motian, but the echoes of Jade Visions are unmistakable in albums by the likes of Tord Gustavsen, Marilyn Crispell and John Taylor, in which the music's essentially contemplative nature is intensified by the careful use of studio reverberation. The same distant source of inspiration resonates, in a very different way, throughout the first CD, “This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat”, from In The Country, whose members, the pianist Morten Qvenild, the bassist Roger Arntzen and the drummer Pal Hausken, are all in their mid-20s and met at the Norwegian Academy of Music. It is not just the inclusion among the 11 pieces of Ryan Adams' “In My Time of Need” and Handel's “Lascia ch'io pianga” that demonstrates their readiness to expand the tradition. Like Brad Mehldau, Qvenild makes a point of downplaying Evans' influence, citing instead an admiration for Morton Feldman and Paul Bley, a contemporary of Evans. Most of all, however, they are distinguished by a willingness to step away from the luxuriant textures cultivated elsewhere. This engaging record is characterised by instrumental sounds that seem undecorated, unretouched. Whereas Evans' followers often seem to be gazing in rapture at their own immaculate reflection, these Norwegians employ stifled, muffled timbres to avoid the trap of self-absorption. The result is a twist that shakes an old formula loose from its reassuring familiarity, making it new yet again.
The Guardian (UK)
Lord knows where Norwegian pianist Morten Qvenild finds the time. A collaborator and orchestrator with Susanna And The Magical Orchestra, Jaga Jazzist, Shining, The National Bank and Solbeig Slettahjell's band, it's not like he's got oodles of time on his hands. But the In The Country trio is his baby and ”This Was The Pace Of My Heartbeat” is certainly no between-projects rush job. It's a jazz album, with the classic piano, bass, drums set-up. But, free from pointless noodling and indulgent solos, and built instead around moving melodies and repeated phrases, it's as likely to appeal to fans of Dirty Three and other post-rock instrumentalists as it is to jazz fans. Drummer Pal Hausken even shares the approach of Jim White, his shuffling drums and percussive sounds moving around the beat. Opener ”Where Can We Go” is at turns suspenseful and melancholy. ”Viggo”'s refrain builds to a dramatic choral crescendo, while their cover of Ryan Adams' ”In My Time Of Need” is a beautiful moment of stillness and calm. It's far from conventional and brilliantly executed, very special.