Recording of the Week,
Hilde Louise Asbjørnsen - Red Lips, Knuckles and Bones
You could be forgiven for thinking I have chosen to review the latest Alison Krauss record if you only listened to the country-tinged opening track Red Lips from Hilde Louise Asbjørnsen’s Red Lips, Knuckles and Bones. This enjoyable album does have one foot firmly in the world of Americana, but the base is still recognisably jazz on the Norwegian vocalist’s eleventh album, continuing in the tradition of Scandinavian singers such as Karin Krog, Laila Dalseth and Nora Brockstedt and younger profiles such as Silje Nergaard and Solveig Slettahjell.
Asbjørnsen has a large palette to work from, being a jazz singer with roots in music across all sorts of genres – cabaret, country, folk, rock and pop. Here she has largely written her own set of songs, often focusing on the power of femininity in contemporary life. 'When I put my red lips on, I can do just anything… I can start a hurricane; I can make a grown man sing… I could hurt a fly'. They also reflect personal losses suffered in her life over the past few years, specifically the death of close friend and contemporary artist Hariton Pushwagner (who was also something of a sixties and seventies pop icon in Norway). Despite these bereavements there is a feisty refusal to give up on this record, which at times verges upon music theatre in its sense of drama; so the tribute to Pushwagner and others who have departed receive a jaunty tribute on the track Pink Push Wagon: `We're surely running out of time / Fresh proof is tumbling down in line / gone’.
With her unique phrasing, Asbjørnsen’s style balances between a crooning, pop, country approach and more traditional jazz. Her band make these stylistic jumps appear seamless, with the touchstone appearing to be swinging sixties jazz, and features her regular collaborators: Jens Fossum (bass), Svein Erik Martinsen (guitar) who also sings a duet with Asbjørnsen on the opening track, Hermund Nygård (drums) and co-producer Anders Aarum. The fine tenor saxophonist Knut Riisnæs' appears on three of the songs as well. A Swing of its Own, a song written for the Oslo Jazz Festival's 30th anniversary, highlights Asbjørnsen’s facility for a catchy tune, and provides an excellent solo turn for Martinsen’s moody guitar. Make Some Shine is light and catchy, with the full band joining in on the chorus; along with Red Lips it would be on Radio 2 in a just world.