Sunday, December 7, 2008

In review--Return to Bethlehem

Solveig Slettahjell
with Tord Gustavsen & Sjur Miljeteig
Night in Bethlehem
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Most of the time a title such as "Night in Bethlehem" would describe songs sung about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. However, Norwegian chanteuse Solveig Slettahjell's album, Night in Bethlehem literally referred to those nights in a special Bethlehem church where Slettahjell, pianist Tord Gustavsen and trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig recorded sacred songs.

The press notes recalled, "After the pilgrims had left the church for the evening and the monks in the Franciscan monastery had retired for the night, the three Norwegian artists spent some creative hours each night in the church."

And this nightly church visit in the holy city was captured in jazz-tinged Christmas carols, both traditional and contemporary. You can literally feel the hush tones of the church (built on the site where Jesus was born), along with the rich timbre of the church piano, Miljeteig's sparkling trumpet and Slettahjell's jazzy soprano vocals. Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem possesses a African-American gospel syncopation, Silent Night which opens the recording, sounds like holy jazz, but my favorite song on the recording, is Oh, Poor Little Jesus which sparkles in its jazz ambiance.

Slettahjell sings in both Norwegian and English. Her clear tones possess a road-weariness and a great deal of compassion. I would imagine that this was a dream project for the musicians. And certainly they had set a reverential atmosphere as they performed timeless gems.

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