The members of In the Country have carved out their own personal ledge in the piano trio mountain. With pianist and composer Morten Qvenild (Susanna & the Magical Orchestra, Jaga Jazzist, sPacemoNkey) as frontman, they have tread paths that no other piano trio before them has ventured to walk. After a series of critically acclaimed releases on Rune Grammofon and the German label ACT, they are now releasing their first whole album together with a vocalist, featuring Norwegian lyrics by poet and lumberjack Hans Børli.
On “Skogenes Sang” (“The Song of the Forests”) they are joined by the British pedal steel legend BJ Cole and vocalist Frida Ånnevik, one of the most talented and highly praised of the new generation of young singer-songwriters. Ånnevik has already released two critically acclaimed solo records, and has won a Spellemannspris (Norwegian Grammy) as well as other prestigious prizes.
Hans Børli (1918-1989), from Eidskog, worked as a lumberjack his entire life, while at the same time he was a prolific writer. For this reason he was called “the poet of the forest”. He is known primarily as a poet, but he also wrote novels, short stories and plays. Børli’s point of departure was the forest and forest life, while his poetry also bears witness to his interest in politics and his increasing focus on existential problems such as fear, faith and death. Børli received a number of literary awards, including the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature in 1970 and the Dobloug Prize in 1972. He was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 1972. His poems have previously been set to music by Erik Lukashagen and Sinikka Langeland, among others.
Morten Qvenild has felt a strong connection to Hans Børli’s poems for a long time, and has composed the music for all the poems on “Skogenes Sang”. When BBC journalist Fiona Talkington invited the trio to participate in the concert series “Conexions” at the National Jazz Scene in 2012, it was natural to include these pieces. Talkington’s objective in this concert series was to stimulate collaboration between Norwegian and British musicians. Pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole was teamed up with In the Country, and the band itself invited Frida Ånnevik to join forces with them. “She was actually an obvious choice for us when it came to performing these down-to-earth poems,” according to the band. The choice proved to be an excellent one. “Playing with Frida has been a very natural process, and it feels as though we’ve been working together for years when we see how similar our views of the music and lyrics are.”
As an artist, Ånnevik has received particular attention for her lyrics. As she hails from Hedmark, she also has a certain amount of familiarity with Børli’s poetry. “Børli is part of the four-leaf clover of exceptional Hedmark poets: Alf Prøysen, Rolf Jacobsen, Kjell Aukrust and Hans Børli.”
Although In the Country is mainly an instrumental trio, vocals and lyrics have also played a role in its universe. “We have always been a vocal band,” says bass player Roger Arntzen, “and we have had a go at everything from growling to bel canto on previous albums.” Qvenild and drummer Pål Hausken have sung on several of the group’s albums, and Swedish cult singer-songwriter Stefan Sundström also guested on the album “Losing Stones, Collecting Bones”. In the past few years the band has held a number of concerts together with author and lyricist Frode Grytten. All three band members have, independently of the trio, played with vocalists known for their powerful lyrics: Morten Qvenild with Susanna Wallumrød and Solveig Slettahjell, Roger Arntzen with Heidi Skjerve and Julie Dahle Aagård, and drummer Pål Hausken with Hilde Marie Kjersem and Ida Jenshus, among others.
BJ Cole can undoubtedly be called a living legend. He has been active as a musician since the early 1970s within a variety of genres, from pop and rock to jazz and more experimental music. He has played on albums and participated in tours with Sting, T. Rex, Björk, Emmylou Harris, Elton John, Iggy Pop, REM, Brian Eno, Luke Vibert, David Sylvian, Roy Harper, and countless others.
“Skogenes Sang” was recorded at Ocean Sound Studio in Giske, Norway, in the course of a weekend in January 2013, and was later mixed by Johnny Skalleberg at Oslo Klang.