In The Country is a young Norwegian jazz trio that takes its name from notions of out-of-town travels and home-turf exploration. The members share a love for revisiting their own country, exploring mountain, forest, coast and sea; sharing favourite places and spots with each other.
This mind-set is also defining for the music they make: Indifferent to excess and grandeur -almost shy- the general orientation is rather one of unhurried and honest clarity. This means narrowing down to musical particulars and upholding tranquil simplicity rather than pushing limits and excelling in performance. The characteristics of unhurried motion and simple “cleansing” structures, with only few emphasized details, do indeed bear similarities to experiences of nature or countryside. It reminds one of the promise of enlightenment through simplicity and it gives the music a character of what the New York Times in its recent review of their latest album “Losing Stones, Collecting Bones,” called translucent intimacy. This concept refers to the atmosphere of internal coalescence that the music manifests: The record shows for itself an exquisite kind of openness and freedom; a lightness to make music that doesn’t prove anything, but simply reveals the honest musical conceptions of the band.
There is something serene about the way In The Country’s music motions through the record's pieces; like the air from room to room. And these rooms are indeed translucent, or open to one another: In The Country’s focus is on incorporating and expressing disparate influences and expressions. -More important than technical virtuosity or spellbinding musical features is the effortless, tranquil sweeps that melts the pieces and refine the music into glass.
In The Country are often praised for their perfectly flowing playing, where the instruments and sounds seems to merge. This gives a non-composite, liquid impression and upon this slow flow they can then float small melodies, extra instruments and luminous little sounds.
One such element on “Losing stones, collecting bones” is distinguished NYC guitarist Marc Ribot’s guest appearance. His guitar pours into the liquid as a sparkle –the guitar sound made to stand out and sea-spray the warmth of the piano and bass- and the way the tones swirl around imperfectly, makes a large tune like “Torch Fishing”, Ribot’s most important contribution, more undulating and abrupt than the Pink Floyd-like atmosphere it reminds of.
Another important trait is the way many of the tunes build into crescendos in great dynamic waves. But it is the kind of build and the kind of peaks that are always restrained and only outline full release; one is never taken out of the tranquil pulse and clean sweeping sensation of the record.
The compositions are all written by Morten Qvenild, the pianist and driving force behind the band. In The Country was formed by Qvenild, drummer Pål Hausken and bassist Roger Arntzen in 2003 while they where all studying at the National Academy of Music in Oslo. Though they are certainly a band, it is nevertheless true that it is Qvenild’s musical visions that are set forth. Involved in many different successful projects, In The Country is his own creation, and it has been described as a kind of musical self-interpretation. This refers to the fact that Qvenild is more broadly oriented than most jazz pianist. As mentioned, he is more about merging different general kinds of expression, drawing on genres outside jazz and exploring that freedom, than he is in typical piano virtuosity.
The band’s first release, last year’s “This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat,” was labelled “one of the finest and most arresting albums to come out of Europe” (that year) by Downbeat Magazine. Other critics were just as impressed, on both sides of the Atlantic, and the amount of attention was a telling sign of the position that young Norwegian jazz currently holds internationally: It is strange for most Norwegians to see that artists who get only limited mainstream exposure in Norway are in fact treated as household names in leading international dailies.
At 28 Qvenild is one such; a well known rising star on the firmament of international jazz. The two others also have not yet reached 30, and In The Country is in many ways the epitomic new Norwegian jazz ensemble: Combining splendid musicality with a laisser-faire attitude that allows them to make music that is open and accessible in a subtle, cross referential and arresting way.
“Losing Stones, Collecting Bones” has received reviews on par with the debut, or even better. Hailed as a masterpiece by domestic media, international reviews have just begun trickling in. Not least in the New York Times whose critic sums up by saying that “the thoughtful album drafts bittersweet melancholy as a softer cousin to the blues.”
In The Country are currently touring Europe with Susanna and the Magical Orchestra (Qvenlid being the Orchestra) and Supersilent, as part of their common label RuneGrammofon’s “labelnight” tour of Europe.sd
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