Recorded at Bugges Room by Bugge Wesseltoft, Focus Studios by Hans Nielsen, Tia Dia Studios by Bo Savik and Lars Danielsson
Musical pigeonholes have never interested Danish singer Caecilie Norby: "I have always been in search of catchy melodies - if you want to have a hit in the pop world, you need a strong melody. In jazz the central subject is that which opens a piece and, in classical music, even the grandest orchestral arrangements may become boring and flat if they aren't carried by a natural melody." For Norby it is the melody that is the essence of music, and the decisive criteria according to which she evaluates and chooses music which is free of any genre boundaries. It is an approach which mirrors her extraordinary career and is probably also the secret of her success. As the daughter of classical musicians - her mother, Solveig Lumholt, was an opera singer and her father, Erik Norby, was a composer - it was the discovery of jazz with its bluesy, swinging and cool moments which brought the decision to follow in her parents' footsteps. A short while later, whilst still a teenager, she got caught up in the maelstrom of rock and pop music with its raw energy and catchy tunes. As a traveller between these different musical worlds she quickly made a name for herself, beginning with her funk jazz band "Frontline" which won all the Danish jazz awards going in the early Eighties. She then went on to form the pop duo "One Two" with Nina Forsberg, selling a quarter of a million albums in Denmark alone.
Norby is probably the most important figure in Scandinavia to bridge the gap between pop and jazz, which led to her paving the way for colleagues such as Rebekka Bakken, Silje Nergaard and Viktoria Tolstoy. She was the first Scandinavian artist to be signed up to the legendary Blue Note label where she recorded four highly acclaimed and best selling albums. C?cilie Norby has also worked with many international stars in different genres, from Bugge Wesseltoft (another Scandinavian authority on stylistically open jazz which reaches a wide audience) to Billy Hart, Mike Stern, Chick Corea and Kurt Elling. The most important of these is bassist Lars Danielsson who not only became her husband but also producer and partner on almost all her projects.
This is also the case with her latest project "Arabesque", her debut for ACT. It is an ambitious, possibly even pioneering project which brings together her career up until now, reflected through the influence of the classical music of her childhood. For the first time, Norby has written song texts for classical pieces, particularly from the Impressionist period (which represents the majority of the 15 tracks on the album). "It was so inspirational that there are many brilliant stories surrounding many of the tracks. Rimsky Korsakov's "Scheherazade", for example, is based on the tales of 1001 Nights, and with Ravel's "Dead Princess", I thought it would be interesting to write about the fragile side of the flamboyant, lesbian Princess Winnaretta de Polignac, financial backer and impresario of Ravel, Stravinsky and Parisian Bohemian society." Norby also rediscovered Satie and Debussy and immediately felt at ease with them: "I had no sources or any experience of combining Nordic jazz with classical music but during the first studio session, I felt much closer to Satie than, for example, to Ellington." The wonderful classical pianist Katrine Gislinge with whom Norby worked together for the first time, can also be heard on the album - "Although we already knew each other when we were children because our parents were best friends," she says. Finally, the bonus track "How Oft" pays tribute to Norby's father who also composed the piece.
However, Norby doesn't only find jazzy sounds in classical melodies - the reverse is also true. On two songs she impressively shows what a "classic" Michel Legrand is, whom she regards as the "most melodic European composer of all times." The swing standard "Bei mir bist du schoen" is also transformed into a rousing funk track not least thanks to Wesseltoft's electronic accompaniment. Norby also includes an unsentimental hymn to "Wholly Earth" by Abbey Lincoln who she greatly respects - although she was unaware of this at the time, the song became a posthumous tribute.
All Music Guide
Arabesque is an edgy, moody collection of songs to thrill the musical iconoclast. Classical purists might run for the hills but Danish jazz singer C?cilie Norby has come up with some extraordinary settings that shed new light on familiar melodies by Rimsky Korsakov, Satie and Debussy, boldly applying her own astringent lyrical interpretations of the stories behind them.
The result is an impressionistic aural feast, punctuated by a burst of funky swing ("Bei mir bist du schoen"), a couple of Michel Legrand tracks and an inspirational take on Abbey Lincoln's "Wholly Earth". In short, Norby, who has been a pioneer of modern Nordic music, straddling the choppy territory between jazz and pop with her refusal to be categorised, has sharpened her maverick credentials and come up with an audacious concept. Just when you think you've pinned it down, the musical influence on each track shifts into new territory.
"The Dead Princess" takes Ravel's haunting theme and turns it into an exploration of the character of the composer's benefactress, Princess Winnaretta de Polignac. His "Pavane", so evocative in any setting, is transformed into a brooding meditation on the power of music to arouse memories and sensations.
Norby isn't the first musician tempted to take liberties with Rimsky Korsakov's "Scheherazade" - prog rock band Renaissance built an entire album around it in the 1970s - but she treats it with great respect, her Arabian Nights-inspired lyrics swirling among the excellent accompaniment of musicians including pianist Katrine Gislinge, co-producer Lars Danielsson (on bass, cello and organ).
The percussion of Anders Engen and Xavier Devandre-Navarre is a crucial ingredient of Arabesque, fluid and driven, providing a great counterpoint to the fascinating texture of Norby's voice. There is more than a hint of Berlin cabaret in her timbre - at times, comparisons with Ute Lemper are valid - but her phrasing is always contemplative and modern. Norby is more about the inner monologue than playing to the gallery.
Other highlights include "The Tears of Billie Blue", a shimmering interpretation of Debussy's "Claire de Lune", and "No Air", which turns Satie's Gymnopedie into sultry, delicate soliloquy. There is also a Danish version of Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind" ("Hvirvelvinden") and a bonus track, "How Oft", a tribute to the singer's father, Erik, who composed it. An absorbing landscape of an album.